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Published January 05 2011

North Dakota’s new governor outlines plan for state’s economy in his first State of the State address

BISMARCK – Gov. Jack Dalrymple has presented his strategic plan for North Dakota’s economic development, calling it “a new road map that will take us forward in the upcoming decade.”

In his first State of the State address on Tuesday, the Republican governor praised the state’s achievements of population growth, job growth and low unemployment.

However, he said his main message was to discuss where North Dakota is going next.

“I want to stress that we have not reached our destination. We have more to do,” he said.

Dalrymple outlined five strategies for job creation that go beyond the state’s five targeted industries of value-added agriculture, energy, advanced manufacturing, technology-based businesses and tourism.

  • Sustain a positive business climate.

    This means a focus on low taxes, a friendly regulatory climate and the most responsive state government anywhere, Dalrymple said.

    As he did in his budget address last month, Dalrymple emphasized the need to invest in infrastructure in the state’s 17 oil and gas producing counties, as well as in the Devils Lake and Red River Valley regions.

  • Invest in research and development, both in the private sector and University System.

    That includes research in unmanned aerial systems – combining the resources of the University of North Dakota with companies like Northrop Grumman – and advanced agricultural research at the new North Dakota State University greenhouse.

    He proposes a new model for public-private partnership called the Research Center of Excellence.

  • Foster a culture of entrepreneurship.

    Dalrymple wants to foster a culture of entrepreneurship where all of the four-year universities operate business incubators that support start-up enterprises.

    The concept will be enhanced in the new Entrepreneurship Center of Excellence, he said.

  • Build, educate and retain work force.

    The state still has work to do finding employees and matching them with jobs, Dalrymple said. The state can evaluate new and prospective employees to determine their best placement by using WorkKeys, an assessment tool developed by ACT, he said.

    “We will teach employers how to use this tool effectively, saving time and cost by not placing employees in mismatched jobs,” he said.

    North Dakota’s two-year colleges can use this test for students to show them the jobs where they would excel and adjust their training accordingly, Dalrymple said.

    The approach can be formalized into the new Workforce Center of Excellence, he said.

    Dalrymple said his proposals are a refinement of the Centers of Excellence program that already exists.

    - Link businesses with foreign buyers.

    As past chairman of the state Trade Office, Dalrymple wants to build on the state’s success in the global marketplace by linking North Dakota businesses with foreign buyers.

    These five strategies – along with the state’s five targeted industries – provide the “necessary ingredients” to continue the state’s economic growth, Dalrymple said.

    Other priorities

    No plan for economic development can succeed without a commitment to education, Dalrymple said. With K-12 education, the state must finish the job of adequately funding schools and improve the quality of instruction, he said.

    As for higher education, the state has spent decades funding its 11 campuses on the basis of past appropriations and past spending, Dalrymple said.

    “We have lost track of the rationale for each campus’s funding level. We must begin a new approach to funding higher education,” he said, interrupted by scattered applause.

    As he did in his budget address, Dalrymple mentioned creating a Commission on Higher Education Funding. In an interview after his speech, Dalrymple said he thinks there’s interest in looking at new, innovative ways to support higher education in the future.

    “I don’t think anyone should feel threatened by that,” he said. “I think it can be a very positive thing. As I said in the speech, it would just be trying to find a better way of doing things.”

    Regarding public safety, Dalrymple spoke of investing in six communications towers that will also improve the public’s cell phone service in poor coverage areas.

    He said his vision for a growing and prospering North Dakota includes having a formula for job creation that can serve as a model for the nation.

    “I’m asking you now, legislators and all citizens of North Dakota, to commit to these enhanced strategies for growth in the coming decade,” Dalrymple said. “We know how far we have come. All of us, working together, will determine how far we will go.”

    Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.