One of my greatest envies in life is when people say they were born and raised in North Dakota. I was born next door in Minnesota and spent the first two years of my life in Florida but, I have called North Dakota home for the past 28 years. I was raised in North Dakota and that alone has shaped my life dramatically, even if I don’t get to claim the born portion of that equation.
I have a deep sense of pride for my state, but it wasn’t until recently I learned that feeling isn’t shared by everyone across the U.S. Sure, there are other states where you see this as commonplace. People from Texas wear their state pride on their sleeve and won’t get through the first sentence of introducing themselves without letting you know that they are from Texas and how great it is there. North Dakotans have a similar pride for where we call home, but instead of wearing it on our sleeves, we bottle it up and keep it to ourselves like it would be too flamboyantly arrogant to say something good about our great state. Instead, we say, “yep, it gets pretty cold here.” Is that really the best we can do? We all need to do much better when giving North Dakota the recognition it deserves. North Dakota is the greatest place in the world to live, work, start a business and raise a family. I truly believe that, and I’m guessing most of you reading agree or you wouldn’t be here. So why are we so apprehensive to tell people why we love it here?
North Dakota has so much more to offer than the default response of being cold for a few months out of the year. Why are we so reluctant to say something positive? We have an ever-booming economy that has us positioned to have the highest GDP per capita in the nation in just a few short years. We have 30 times more job openings than we have people on unemployment, one of the highest standards of living in the entire world, great education, beautiful scenery, a resilient housing market that 2008 could barely cool and, most importantly, some of the best people this world has to offer.
The talent of our entrepreneurs in the state is well documented, and for good reason. Household names like Doug Burgum, Michael Chambers, Barry Batchelor and Howard Dahl are well known for how they have helped mold North Dakota’s economy into what it is today. However, there is another set of incredible people that may not be household names to most, but they should be. These are our elected officials, state employees, our legislators, our county and city commission leaders, mayors and local leaders and many more who operate in the background to make North Dakota the best place on the planet.
Up until three years ago, I was a hard-charging private sector entrepreneur and investor who believed that the only people who worked in state government were those who couldn’t make it in the private sector. That was a belief I am now incredibly ashamed of ever possessing.
I was ecstatic when Doug Burgum decided to run for Governor. One of the hardest working, most intelligent and most innovative thinkers I have ever met in my life decided that he was going to apply his gifts not for personal wealth, but to make the state he loves the best it could be. This was something that I had admired from a distance, but it never crossed my mind that it could be a path that I one day would take as well.
Fast forward to 2019 and the Commerce Commissioner at the time, Michelle Kommer, asked if I would be interested in a new position leading how Commerce approached investing capital for economic benefit in the state. My first reaction was that there was no chance I would be interested in being in state government, that would be admitting defeat that I couldn’t cut it in the private sector and had to resort to state government as a backup. Thankfully, as time went on and I thought more about the work and the scale and impact that it could have for the state I love, I decided to take Michelle up on her offer.
What transpired over the next three years was unlike anything I could have predicted. Instead of finding a bunch of people who were only there because they couldn’t make it in the private sector, I found a group of amazing individuals with incredible talents that showed up every day, not for recognition or wealth, but because they also love the state of North Dakota, and their efforts went to make it a better place. Not just state employees, but legislators, community leaders, elected officials and even volunteer board members. There was an entire world behind the scenes working tirelessly each day, making hard decisions to improve the lives of everyone who get to call North Dakota home.
Instead of wearing their Texas pride on their cowboy hat each day, North Dakotans show up for their state behind the scenes and humbly work to support their fellow neighbors. This work largely goes unnoticed, but it is what has brought us here to present day, which is perhaps the brightest future the state has ever faced.
North Dakota is steadily on track to continue being a solid model of resiliency as the global economy turns towards what could be a winter tragically marked in history as one where people in developed nations may not be able to heat their homes, people in underdeveloped nations could starve and the global economy could be crippled by rising inflation, economic uncertainty and Putin’s quest to expand his empire at the expense of humanity’s betterment.
Faced with such a somber outlook as the leaves turn and we head into a realm of uncertainty, people in North Dakota should wake up each day with immense gratitude that our state insulates us from the global tribulations that others face. We have ample and diverse energy sources and crops, rainy day funds stockpiled with small fortunes that even some countries would envy, a state-owned bank and mill and even a sovereign wealth fund that is nearing $10 billion of assets under management. There is no better place in the world to be right now than North Dakota. Sure, our winters may be cold, but our state protects us from economic winters that other parts of the country and world will face. I’ll take that trade-off any day. Not only do we take care of our people, but we also help feed and fuel the world. North Dakota is part of the solution to solve the global challenges for food and energy security that we face globally. We are perfectly positioned to step up and play at the global stage to change the world for the better. The people who show up to work every day here take that up on their shoulders with pride and advance the mission.
“We should all wear on our sleeves that humble little North Dakota is where the world is going to look to when the most challenging tribulations emerge. We step up and solve the hardest problems when no one else can or don’t have the courage to try. We need to be proud of that.”
As citizens of the greatest place on earth, we should feel immense gratitude for what we have, and for all the future holds for our state and its people. As the next Commerce Commissioner, it is a tremendous honor to play a role in crafting the future of our state alongside the Governor, and everyone else who contributes to making our state, country, and the world a better place. I look forward to sharing stories with you about why we should be grateful and proud to claim North Dakota as home. It is with gratitude that I get to show up to work every day and help continue the legacy of those who went before me to further cement our state’s place in history as the greatest place on earth to live.