By Rich Garman
Director of Economic Development & Finance, North Dakota Department of Commerce
North Dakota, with its abundant energy resources, picturesque prairies, and rich agricultural heritage, has experienced a remarkable transformation in recent years. Gone are the days of “flyover” state status and population outmigration. The state has become a shining example of diverse economic development, harnessing its natural resources and fostering value-added innovation across various sectors. With a proactive approach and forward-thinking policies, North Dakota has successfully diversified its economy, attracting businesses, entrepreneurs, and a skilled workforce.
What is propelling North Dakota’s rise to the top?
Policy – North Dakota prides itself on an “Innovation Over Regulation” way of doing business. We work with the industry to develop innovative solutions to today’s issues and then get out of the way while the industry implements these solutions.
Accessibility – North Dakota has been consistently tagged with the phrase “North Dakota Nice” in terms of its hospitality and accessibility. For businesses considering locating here, this means they have access to connect with virtually anyone they need in North Dakota state government or business.
Primacy – North Dakota is one of only two states in the nation with the ability to permit its own CO2 injection wells. This is incredibly important with today’s push to lower carbon footprints. Only North Dakota and Wyoming currently have this permitting ability, saving companies years of development time.
Geology – North Dakota has unique geology under most of the western portion of the state that allows for the permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide, critical for companies looking to lower their carbon footprint.
The portfolio of projects considering locating to North Dakota range across nearly all sectors of the economy. Here is an overview of some of these projects.
North Dakota’s energy sector has played a pivotal role in driving economic growth and diversification. The Bakken shale formation, one of the largest oil and natural gas fields in the United States, has turned the state into a major energy player. The development of advanced drilling techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing, has unlocked vast reserves of oil and natural gas, creating job opportunities and attracting significant investments. The energy sector has not only boosted employment but also contributed to infrastructure development and increased tax revenues for the state.
Natural Gas to Liquids
The proposed gas-to-liquid (GTL) facility in northwest North Dakota, which is estimated to cost $5.5B, will be one of the largest of its kind in North America. The facility will be capable of producing a range of liquid fuels and chemicals from natural gas, including diesel, naphtha, gasoline, mixed alcohols, and other valuable by-products. The production process involves the conversion of methane gas from natural gas into these liquid fuels and chemicals.
One of the key features of the proposed facility is that it will be coupled with carbon sequestration technology. This means that the facility will capture and store carbon dioxide emissions produced during the conversion process. By doing so, the facility will be able to significantly reduce its carbon footprint, making it one of the cleanest operating GTL facilities in the world.
North Dakota is the largest U.S. producer of many crops, including durum wheat, flaxseed, canola, barley, sunflowers, honey, dry edible peas, and lentils. The robust agricultural economy requires ammonia-based fertilizer to maintain the volume and quality of harvested crops. Even though North Dakota has an abundance of natural gas, it has a great deficit of ammonia-based fertilizer. North Dakota farmers pay more per ton than anywhere else in North America for fertilizer. This demand and abundant natural gas make for a natural fit to develop ammonia fertilizer plant facilities in the state. Currently, several proposed fertilizer plants hope to take advantage of this opportunity and start projects very soon.
A proposed sustainable plastics production facility, expected to cost $1.5B, will utilize methane and ocean-based microorganisms to produce biodegradable plastics. This project is one example of a potential project that would utilize the outputs of the gas-to-liquid plant. These potential facilities would greatly diversify the North Dakota economy as well as create jobs and provide new value-added markets for the state’s abundant natural gas resources.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a crucial component of the aviation industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. North Dakota is home to several initiatives working on creating a sustainable aviation fuel industry. A very viable approach is to add SAF facilities to existing ethanol biorefineries in the state. North Dakota has six ethanol plants that could potentially have SAF facilities incorporated into their design. This approach leverages existing infrastructure and expertise in ethanol production to produce SAF as well. In addition, there are several standalone projects proposed for building biorefineries that will directly produce SAF.
Carbon Capture Use and Sequestration (CCUS)
North Dakota is making significant investments in carbon capture and sequestration technologies to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. While the potential revenue generated from these projects will depend on the number of tons of CO2 captured and the price per ton, they represent an important step towards reducing the state’s carbon footprint.
North Dakota has abundant underground storage potential for CO2. The state’s geology offers suitable rock formations, such as deep saline formations and depleted oil and gas reservoirs, which can securely store captured CO2 and potentially accommodate large-scale CCUS projects. The state’s regulatory framework includes guidelines for permitting and monitoring the safe and permanent storage of CO2.
Agriculture and Agribusiness
Agriculture has been the backbone of North Dakota’s economy for well over a century. The state’s fertile soil and favorable climate make it an ideal location for crop cultivation and livestock farming. In recent years, North Dakota has witnessed a surge in agribusiness and valueadded agriculture. Farmers and entrepreneurs have capitalized on the growing demand for organic products, specialty crops and livestock genetics. Additionally, the state has focused on promoting agricultural research and innovation, fostering partnerships between universities, farmers and industry experts.
Soy Processing Facilities
North Dakota currently has three soybean processing facilities planned across the state, with a projected capital cost of more than $1.8B. These projects will allow North Dakota to add value to their leading crop by producing valuable feedstock for biofuels (to be processed into renewable diesel at facilities in North Dakota).
These facilities will create the demand for a refining facility to process the soy oil into value commodities such as renewable diesel fuel. The soy processing facilities will also produce a significant volume of animal feed with soy meal. This supply opportunity coupled with recent changes to animal agriculture regulations in the state will allow for significant growth in animal agriculture in North Dakota.
Grand Farm Development
The Grand Farm Development aims to advance the use of technology in agriculture and develop a network of smart farms that use advanced technology such as sensors, drones and machine learning to improve crop yields and reduce costs. The farms would serve as testbeds for new technologies and provide valuable data to help farmers make more informed decisions.
The Grand Farm Development also includes plans for an Ag Innovation Campus, which would provide a space for companies and researchers to collaborate on new agricultural technologies. The campus would include labs, offices and shared facilities to support research and development in the field. An additional Entrepreneurial Center would provide resources such as mentoring, training and funding to help startups get off the ground.
Technology and Innovation
North Dakota has embraced technology and innovation as catalysts for economic diversification. The state has actively fostered an entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing support and resources for startups and technology-driven enterprises. Grand Forks and Fargo have emerged as thriving technology hubs, attracting talented professionals and venture capital. North Dakota’s commitment to innovation is evident through initiatives like the North Dakota Centers of Excellence program, which funds research and development projects in key sectors such as energy, agriculture, and healthcare, and Grand Sky Business Park, the first commercial Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS) focused business and aviation park in the United States with infrastructure and facilities for UAS operations, testing, research and development.
North Dakota is quickly emerging as an attractive location for data centers due to its favorable climate, affordable energy prices, and strong fiber connectivity. A proposed $2.2B data facility in northwest North Dakota would take advantage of the area’s abundant natural gas resources, which can provide reliable, cost-effective power for the data center. Additionally, the facility would leverage the state’s strong fiber connectivity to ensure fast and reliable data transfer.
Another proposed $1 billion data center facility in northeast North Dakota would also benefit from the state’s favorable energy prices and fiber connectivity. In addition to the two major data center projects, several smaller data center facilities are planned for other parts of the state.
Together, these data center projects would help bring new investment to North Dakota while leveraging the state’s resources and infrastructure to support the growing demand for digital services.
Manufacturing and Value-Added Industries
Manufacturing serves as an important pillar of the state’s economy, providing employment opportunities, driving innovation, and diversifying the industrial landscape. The sector’s growth is supported by favorable business conditions, energy resources, research collaborations, and a commitment to fostering a vibrant manufacturing ecosystem. Moreover, North Dakota has leveraged its agricultural resources to develop value-added industries, including food processing, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing.
North Dakota has not traditionally been a producer of mined or processed minerals, apart from lignite coal. However, there are now several initiatives aimed at diversifying the state’s mineral processing industry.
One such initiative is the proposed nickel processing facility. This facility will bring mined ore to North Dakota to process into battery-grade nickel. The facility is expected to create jobs and economic opportunities for the state. Another initiative is the proposed iron ore processing facility. This facility will bring iron ore tailings to North Dakota to process into crude iron. The facility will produce the lowest carbon per pound of steel in the world.
In addition to these initiatives, there are also efforts underway to develop a plan to extract rare earth minerals and valuable carbon forms (fibers, nanotubes) from abundant lignite coal. This could potentially create a new industry in North Dakota, with opportunities for both mining and processing. Developing these mineral processing facilities will require significant investment and development of new infrastructure. However, they have the potential to bring new economic opportunities to the state.
Commerce works to improve the quality of life for North Dakota citizens by leading efforts to attract, retain and expand wealth. In addition to program and service offerings, Commerce offers opportunities that can help incentivize business starting or relocating to North Dakota.
- North Dakota Development Fund
- Wonder Fund North Dakota
- Angel Match Program
- Biotechnology Research Grants
- Legacy Investment for Technology Loan Fund
- Agricultural Products Utilization Committee
- Agricultural Diversification and Development Fund
- Clean Sustainable Energy Authority
- Renewable Energy Council
- Automation Tax Credit
- State Income Tax Deferral
- Sales Tax Exemption
- Property Tax Exemption
In summary, business incentives, government accessibility and workforce performance, combined with North Dakota’s favorable position as one of the lowest-cost states for operating a business, are driving top companies to establish operations in the state. North Dakota is open for business, and the future looks bright.