FARGO — In his annual State of the State Address, Governor Doug Burgum described North Dakota as a business winner and quality of life leader that has proven resilient to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 and a historic drought.
During the nearly two-hour speech at the Fargo Theater on Wednesday, Feb. 16, the Republican governor praised “central” energy and agricultural industries, touted recent infrastructure investments and tax relief measures, said chastised President Joe Biden’s administration and pointed to North Dakota’s “unlimited potential” as a state with a rapidly growing population.
“We think of North Dakota as our dream field, but that dream field is coming true,” Burgum said in reference to the “If you build it, they’ll come” line from the classic baseball movie.
“We are attracting remarkable levels of investment; we are creating huge opportunities for today’s workforce and for future generations,” Burgum said. “Today the state of the state is strong.”
The former tech executive challenged North Dakota to become the national leader in gross domestic product per capita — a measure of economic output that takes population into account. The state ranked fourth in the metric last year.
Burgum said the abundant natural resources and years of effort by state politicians to create “one of the most stable and business-friendly fiscal and regulatory environments in the country” have made North Dakota a trade hub.
Over the past year, energy and agriculture companies have unveiled big plans to open new facilities in North Dakota, including a $350 million soybean grinding plant in Spiritwood, a natural gas conversion plant of $2.8 billion in Trenton and a $1.9 billion cryptocurrency data mining center outside of Williston.
Burgum also said the state is well positioned to help lead the world toward a more environmentally friendly future while continuing to generate power from fossil fuels.
The governor spoke at length about emerging carbon capture and storage projects that aim to bury carbon dioxide underground instead of emitting it into the atmosphere. An expensive technology, many industry watchers and investors see carbon capture as promising but mostly unproven at scale – Burgum sees it as a cornerstone of his goal for North Dakota to achieve neutrality carbon by 2030.
A $4.5 billion carbon capture pipeline project aims to store carbon dioxide underground from Midwest ethanol plants in North Dakota.
Burgum addressed the state’s severe labor shortage, noting that “companies are begging for workers.” North Dakota currently has approximately 30,000 open jobs.
Although there is “no silver bullet” to solve the problem, the governor said the state should improve access to technical education programs and child care, promote the development of automation to fill unwanted jobs and build thriving communities that attract residents from other states who can now work remotely.
The governor added that property taxes collected locally are hurting the wallets of North Dakotans, and that cities and counties should reduce levies to counter rising property assessments. Burgum said he will work with senior officials to bring important tax reform proposals to next year’s legislative session.
On the health care front, Burgum said the state needs to improve access to mental health and addiction treatment. Overdose deaths and suicides have increased in North Dakota in recent years, according to data from the state Department of Health.
The governor’s office said it would release a full transcript and video of the address later Wednesday.