Just when the Legislature was ready to break open the $8 billion Legacy Fund egg, an organization called WalletHub came out with a study that demeaned North Dakota’s ability to innovate, perhaps suggesting that we weren’t a very good opportunity for major venture capital investment after all.
Anytime we get a survey that casts negative light, we refuse to believe it. So after I saw Forum Reporter Pat Springer’s summary of the bad news, I quickly searched to find holes in WalletHub’s negative review.
This is how Springer summarized it: “a ranking by WalletHub listed North Dakota 49thamong 50 states and the District of Columbia in innovation based on a score drawn by 22 key indicators, including a share of STEM professionals – those working in science, technology, engineering and math – as well as per-capita research and development spending.”
Suspicious to the end, I wondered if the 22 key indicators were those chronic opinionated guys who met weekly at the town’s biggest pub. Nope, I found the key indicators to be legitimate.
The 10 top states for innovation were Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Washington, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado, California, Delaware, Utah and New Hampshire.
According to the Chamber of Commerce Foundation, North Dakota ranked high in enterprise. But these kind thoughts lacked the thoroughness of WalletHub research and are believed by people who want to think kindly about home enterprise.
This is especially important because the Legislature talked about using some of the Legacy Fund principal for investing in North Dakota business. Will the negative Wallethub report cool off the Legislature’s ardor for investing in a state low in innovation?
Usually, once the die is cast the political will is to proceed as planned, regardless of the age of the plan.
The WalletHub people gave short shrift to the greatest innovations in our history – the Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator, parading socialism in a state of boundless conservatism. They didn’t look like innovation because they were 100 years old.
But the measuring experts should have gotten in the cab of a new John Deere tractor, decked out with high tech, measuring planting one seed at a time and apportioning fertilizer as each plot of soil requires. All of this managed by high technology distant from the field.
Farmers are thicker than sow thistle at every farm show, learning and applying the latest. Consequently, many farmers are over-invested in equipment. It is so much fun. The half a million dollar tractor or combine will never be amortized. But innovation is their game.
But, as my farm boss observed on one dull day: “I like farming because it takes so long to go broke.”
So will this WalletHub rainy day run North Dakota off the investment field? The whole $8 billion in the Legacy Fund will not be bet on the “red 20” in the Flamingo. At best, it will be a test effort with limited commitment to see if we can’t innovate our way up from 49th.
If we could pioneer successfully innovating with haywire, we should have no fear of innovating with a paltry million or two in the stock market.
Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.