As the CEO and Board Chair at Border States Electric and the Co-Chair for the Valley Prosperity Partnership, Tammy Miller is well-versed in the economic development happening with technology in our state. As she and the rest of the Valley Prosperity Partnership push to create more economic diversity in the state, Miller answered some questions for us about where the state is going.
Q: The Valley Prosperity Partnership backed the bill that would create an economic diversification research fund in support of North Dakota’s two research universities: UND and NDSU. Why is that important to our state?
A: The State of the Heartland: Factbook 2018 report concluded that innovation is the core driver of prosperity in the 21st century. There is a proven and strong relationship between an economy’s ability to convert its science and technology assets into new or improved products, processes and services and the creation of economic opportunities and higher-paying jobs.
A recent study by The Association of University Technology Managers reports that between 1996 and 2015, academic technology transfer delivered more than 380,000 inventions, 80,000 patents, supported more than 4.3 million jobs and contributed $591 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. The report further stated that 70 percent of university innovations were licensed to startups and small companies.
We are privileged to have two exceptional research universities in our state with North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota. The Valley Prosperity Partnership (VPP), a coalition of business, higher education and economic development leaders in the region, would like to see greater investment in university research to help strengthen our economy and attract and retain talent in our state. Effective research will also help us diversify our economy and reduce our dependence on energy and agriculture.
A statewide scientific poll commissioned by the VPP in 2018 found that 79 percent of respondents agreed that the state of North Dakota should invest research dollars in new industries in addition to agriculture and energy to diversify the economy.
A solid and predictable base of funding is required to ensure North Dakota’s two research universities attract and leverage transformational research opportunities, often in collaboration with businesses, to generate sustainable, diversified economic growth.
Bill SB 2282
The Valley Prosperity Partnership backed SB 2282 would have provided $45 million in Legacy Fund earnings for university research to strengthen and diversify the state’s economy and attract and retain the workforce. It failed to pass legislation this year.
The VPP also supported the Legacy Investment in Future Technology (LIFT) bill that passed as a $15 million zero and low-interest loan program to support entrepreneurial activity in the tech sector.
Q: As automation becomes more widespread, educating the workforce for high tech jobs is more important than ever. What role does our higher education system play in ensuring workers are getting that education? Do you think that education is solely responsible on higher ed. or should the private sector play a role in helping fill that education?
A: Automation is an exciting and effective way to increase capacity and allow our workforce to be more productive, have higher quality jobs and be safe. Higher education plays an important role in continually preparing each generation of students with strong technical skills who are ready to work in a more automated environment with higher paying jobs.
Education in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines will prepare students for rewarding careers in key growth sectors of North Dakota’s economy. The business community also plays an important role and must work collaboratively with higher education on curriculum and program development along with providing work experiences that offer opportunities for students to see relevant applications and engage in problem-solving. It is essential for higher education and the business community to work together to ensure our workforce is equipped with technical skills as well as critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills.
Q: What is the most exciting research and work being done in our state, in your opinion?
A: Leading-edge research is being conducted by our research universities, business innovators, entrepreneurs and others in our region and state. A few highlights include advanced polymeric materials, crops that have industrial uses, including sustainable materials, neuroscience research related to drug addiction and Alzheimer’s disease, infectious diseases, oil recovery, carbon capture and autonomous systems, to name a few. In our industry specifically, we see breakthrough technology in North Dakota impacting our customers in the oil and gas, agriculture and utility sectors. Successful research in our state is extremely exciting and helps us attract and retain talent, provides higher paying jobs and creates a more diverse and sustainable economy.
About Valley Prosperity Partnership
According to its website, the Valley Prosperity Partnership aims to develop a unified and shared vision for high value and sustained economic growth. It is comprised of economic developers, NDSU and UND, private sector businesses, community leaders and others who recognize the importance of collaboration and leveraging resources.
They will do this by:
Leveraging and promoting existing resources
Creating new programs and resources that address gaps or limitations
Strengthening public and private sector partnerships and communication
Building upon the accomplishments of the Red River Valley Research Corridor
Strategically influencing current and future public policy
Developing clear and transparent performance measures to gauge impact
Learn more at valleyprosperitypartnership.com
Q: What is our state still lacking in terms of research being done?
A: According to Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, “the Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries.” Technology is rapidly changing with artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, energy generation and storage, advanced computing and more.
With limited resources, our challenge is to find and invest in opportunities with the highest return on investment and impact on our economy. Investments are especially important for developing opportunities associated with key technology sectors with high potential in North Dakota, including value-added agriculture and energy, autonomous systems, health care and advanced computing/big data. A solid and predictable base of funding is required to attract and leverage transformational research opportunities to generate diversified economic growth. With additional investment, we could build on the more than $250 million in research already being conducted by our two research universities and enhance our statewide competitiveness.
In terms of research being done, what work do you think is essential for the public sector and higher education to complete? Also, what work is important for the private sector to work on?
A: The VPP and a growing coalition of businesses, business groups and community leaders believe that UND and NDSU are important economic drivers in our state. Research conducted at UND and NDSU helps to sustain and boost our competitive advantage in agriculture and energy. Their research also leads to innovations in other sectors that translate into new economic opportunities, a more skilled workforce and higher-paying jobs for North Dakotans.
The VPP’s focus has been to encourage and promote research and development that is aligned with industry sectors that strengthen and diversify our region’s and the state’s economy. Sustainable funding will require new and improved ways to invest in research and it will require building better and sometimes new ways for universities and businesses to collaborate to advance our shared goals.
Q: Thanks to the work being done now, North Dakota is going to be transformed. What’s your vision for North Dakota for 30 years from now?
A: In 30 years, the state of North Dakota will be ranked number one for its attraction and retention of talent, sustainable and diversified economy, innovative use of technology and results.
About Tammy Miller
Miller is the CEO and Board Chair at Border States Electric. Border States is 100 percent employee-owned through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and is the seventh largest electrical distributor in North America. The company has more than 2,600 employee-owners, provides products and supply chain solutions to the construction, industrial, and utility markets, has more than 100 branch locations in 22 states and is headquartered in Fargo. Tammy joined the company in 1991 as Accounting Manager and served in a variety of roles with increased responsibility. She was named CEO and Board Chair in 2006 and has led the company to unprecedented growth. In 2007, she was the first woman in the 100-year history of the National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED) to serve as the Board Chair. Along with all of that, she’s also the Co-Chair for the Valley Prosperity Partnership.