Sep 8th, 2003 @ 9:16 am | Author: Dr. Ellen-Earle Chaffee, President
I spent Friday afternoon in Fargo. It was a mixed blessing.

Senator Dorgan convened about 75 people to review initial progress in developing a vibrant, profitable Red River Valley Research Corridor. He has directed millions of federal research dollars into North Dakota in the last several years for this, primarily through NDSU and UND. He is also largely responsible for some major federal projects at Minot State, Dickinson State, and Bismarck State.

These projects have created hundreds of well-paying research and industrial jobs. The key example of that is the research center on nanotechnology at NDSU and its primary role in attracting Alien Technology and several hundred projected new jobs to Fargo.

The event was clearly bipartisan with Governor Hoeven describing some of the significant contributions the state has made to consolidate and expand on these efforts. The Senator, the Governor, the universities, and the state clearly have much to celebrate from this initiative, and it was an honor to participate in the celebration.

Now, you may be thinking that the "mixed blessing" part of the message is because Valley City State University is not among those with a horn to blow in this project. You would be wrong. I understand how the list of participants evolved. And celebration was not Senator Dorgan’s primary goal for the event. Rather, he ended the program by announcing that he will be forming a steering and advisory committee to continue and expand the research corridor. Most of the university system presidents were there, and the message was a clear invitation to participate, going forward.

At the end, he said that the population projections for North Dakota are so dismal for the year 2020, except in Fargo, that no one can or should sit back and let those projections become reality. I turned to the senior Fargo Forum editor beside me and said, "If the rest of the state is a desert, it will drag Fargo down, too."

He fairly exploded with disagreement. "Not at all," he said. "Fargo’s growth is totally independent of the rest of the state. Fargo does not need North Dakota at all." Or words very nearly to that effect. I was so thunderstruck, I was speechless.

Clearly, Fargo’s new revenues in the primary sector come mostly from out of state. I suppose that was his point. I wonder, however, where he thinks they will continue to get the outstanding workforce and work ethic that North Dakota is so famous for. If the state’s non-urban roads and highways continue to deteriorate, will that affect Fargo? Does he want Fargo to follow the path of negative social trends that are common to most cities? Or would it help Fargo if the state were studded with thriving agricultural and technology centers? Quality of life is essential for successful economic development. Is the rest of the state irrelevant to Fargo’s quality of life?
I would like to find an expert in urban growth who can say which perspective is correct, based on the elements of long-term success for a city. Perhaps somewhere there is an inclusive vision for growth that avoids the mistakes of other states and that appreciates non-urban people and places. In the meanwhile, the impact of the editor’s complete disdain is hard to shake.