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James Ferragut, Published November 05 2011

Ferragut: At last, ND has arrived

Recently, there’s been a media frenzy extolling the virtues of North Dakota and how we navigated our way through the recession. It’s old news to us because we’ve been living it.

The most unexpected and startling observation came from a pundit who is known for his “take no prisoners” attitude on the ideologies he espouses. Toward the end of an evening of conversation at Concordia College last week, political strategist James Carville said: “I want to make a speech, it’s a short one …” and he delivered a moving and heartfelt observation about Fargo-Moorhead. He called it a unique place in the universe where people respected each other and were serious about learning more about the world. He said it was a kind place. He told us to own it and treasure it. His wife, Mary Matalin, echoed the same sentiments. This, from two political street fighters who have been at the center of national politics.

It’s easy for the national media to focus on the huge impact the Bakken oil reserve is making on our state. But the Bakken isn’t the whole story. The most recent data from the state of North Dakota shows that slightly less than 25 percent of state tax revenue and gross income are related to the oil boom. That’s not insignificant.

But the more important story is the way the state has governed itself in the past 10 years. With the strongest of visionary leadership from our governors, senators and Legislature, our direction and strategy have been clear: Keep government at bay when it comes to the private sector, work within our budget, put money away for the inevitable rainy day, make education a priority, take care of our elderly and veterans, reduce taxes and stay focused.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple made an insightful comment when asked about North Dakota’s apparent “overnight success.” I paraphrase: “There are plenty of other states that have natural resources like we do, who have managed to run their states into deficit spending. …”

We also have to acknowledge how important Fargo is to North Dakota’s “success equation.” Fargo’s job growth in health and medicine, higher education, research, emerging high tech, engineering, business administration, hospitality, transportation, entertainment and manufacturing is beyond significant.

North Dakota has been the butt of jokes for years. Those of us who travel a lot all have our pre-set responses to the questions: “Is North Dakota really a state?” “Does everyone talk like that movie?” But that was then, and now people are starting to pay attention to us. If Carville and Matalin, who, in the middle of their busy lives, stopped dead in their tracks to take note, then it’s time for us to concede that we have what so many others aspire to.

So, what do we do next? We don’t want to squander what we’ve accomplished. But it’s our time to shed the cloak of humility. It’s time to realize that we don’t have to ask ourselves: “Are we there yet?” It’s time to say: “This is North Dakota, and we have arrived.”

Ferragut is general manager and marketing consultant for a Fargo company.