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Burgum touts North Dakota’s economic prowess, highlights labor shortage in State of the State address

During the nearly two-hour speech in Fargo, the Republican governor heaped praise on the “powerhouse” energy and agriculture industries, touted recent infrastructure investments and tax relief measures, admonished President Joe Biden’s administration and highlighted North Dakota’s “unlimited potential” as a state with a fast-growing population.

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Gov. Doug Burgum delivered his State of the State address on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, at the Fargo Theatre in downtown Fargo.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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FARGO — In his annual State of the State address, Gov. Doug Burgum portrayed North Dakota as a winner in business and a quality-of-life leader that has proven resilient to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and a historic drought.

During the nearly two-hour speech at the Fargo Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 16, the Republican governor heaped praise on the “powerhouse” energy and agriculture industries, touted recent infrastructure investments and tax relief measures , admonished President Joe Biden’s administration and highlighted North Dakota’s “unlimited potential” as a state with a fast-growing population.

“We think of North Dakota as our field of dreams, but that field of dreams is becoming a reality,” Burgum said in reference to the classic baseball film’s “If you build it, they will come” line.

“We’re attracting remarkable levels of investment; we’re creating tremendous opportunity for today’s workforce and for future generations,” Burgum said. “Today, the state of the state is strong.”

The former tech executive issued a challenge for North Dakota to become the national leader in gross domestic product per capita — a measure of economic output that accounts for population. The state ranked fourth in the metric last year.

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Burgum said abundant natural resources and years of state politicians’ efforts to create “one of the nation’s most stable and business-friendly tax and regulatory environments” has resulted in North Dakota becoming a hub for commerce.

Over the last year, energy and agriculture businesses have unveiled big plans to open new facilities in North Dakota, including a $350 million soybean crushing plant in Spiritwood, a $2.8 billion natural gas conversion plant in Trenton and a $1.9 billion cryptocurrency data mining center outside of Williston.

Burgum also said the state is well-positioned to help lead the world into a more environmentally minded future while still continuing to produce energy through fossil fuels.

The governor spoke extensively about emerging carbon capture and storage projects that aim to bury carbon dioxide underground instead of emitting it into the atmosphere. An expensive technology, many industry observers and investors view carbon capture as promising but mostly unproven at a large scale — Burgum sees it as a cornerstone of his goal for North Dakota to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

A proposed $4.5 billion carbon capture pipeline aims to store carbon dioxide from Midwestern ethanol plants underground in North Dakota.

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Gov. Doug Burgum delivered his State of the State address on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, at the Fargo Theatre in downtown Fargo.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

In response to Burgum's speech, Democratic-NPL Chairman Patrick Hart said the governor has failed to diversify the state's economy during his five years in office. Hart said in a news release that North Dakota is "completely dependent on oil and gas production right now, and Republicans aren’t making realistic plans for when this one time harvest is over."

Hart added that Burgum has demonstrated incompetence in responding to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. The governor spoke briefly about the health crisis, noting that residents should get vaccinated, but businesses and government entities shouldn't force the shot on anyone.

Burgum addressed the state’s severe labor shortage, noting that “businesses are begging for workers.” North Dakota currently has about 30,000 open jobs.

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Although there’s “no silver bullet” for solving the problem, the governor said the state should improve access to technical education programs and child care, while building thriving communities that attract residents of other states who can now work remotely.

Burgum also said the state should double down on a tax credit for businesses using automation to fill unwanted jobs. After Burgum mentioned automation, a robot built by North Dakota State University students rolled onto the stage and handed the governor a bottle of water and a note from first lady Kathryn Burgum.

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A robot delivers a note to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum as he delivered his State of the State address on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, at the Fargo Theatre in downtown Fargo.
Screen shot via livestream

The governor added that property taxes collected at a local level are hurting North Dakotans' pocketbooks, and cities and counties should decrease levies to counteract higher property valuations. Burgum said he'll work with top officials to bring significant tax reform proposals to next year's legislative session.

On the health care front, Burgum said the state needs to improve access to mental health and addiction treatment. Overdose deaths and suicides have increased in North Dakota over the last few years, according to data from the state Department of Health.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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