Training workers and drawing tourists: A Q&A with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum
Editor’s note: In a recent interview with Prairie Business, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum talked about two business-related proposals that he’s making for the 2019 legislative session: career academies (which are meant to help solve the workforce shortage), and the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, a tourism boost.
Here is a transcript of the governor’s remarks in our interview. The transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: In your budget address on Dec. 5, you mentioned “career academies” and proposed dollars to help fund them. Why are these important?
BURGUM: At the career academy in Bismarck, students are taking their first year of their associate degree while in high school and the second year as freshmen. Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford and I were touring there a month ago in this power-plant management class, and there are young kids who are in the equivalent of October of their (college) freshman year.
We asked the professor how it’s going. He said two of his kids already have job offers; they are going to get hired for $72,000 a year out of his class before they even finish one year of college with no debt.
That program really was both funded and started by the Bismarck Public School system. We’d like to see career academies in other communities as well, so we put in $30 million in the budget for career academy grants.
From a context in understanding the education discussion in North Dakota, one of the largest employers in most of our communities is the public school system. You have Bismarck, Fargo, West Fargo public schools -- these are organizations that are getting close to 2,000 people. We have 15 or so school districts that are bigger than some of our universities in terms of staff and students.
There are 11,000 or 12,000 students in Bismarck, so we have huge K-12 groups, too.
So, in making the career academy proposal, we’re saying, “Here is $30 million from the state, but you can partner with local political subdivisions, including K-12 organizations.”
Some of these K-12 organizations can go out and bond and build new buildings. They have all kinds of freedoms the universities don’t have. Why? Because they have local governance.
We have 180 K-12 school boards. We have one board trying to run higher education in the whole state. I think there is an opportunity for that collaboration.
So regarding the grant proposal, Grand Forks, Minot, Dickinson and Fargo are all great places to start because they all have huge numbers of high-skilled jobs available that require only an associate degree.
Q: Who should apply for grants from the $30 million? To what agencies or bodies will that be distributed?
BURGUM: Ultimately, it will be a consortium. The career academy in Bismarck started with Bismarck Public Schools years ago, and they then engaged with Bismarck State College. The two of them jointly run it, with joint faculty and joint students.
In Grand Forks, there is a trade school in East Grand Forks, but it’s not part of our system, and you have Lake Region State College, a two-year school that is not far away. Down I-29, you have the North Dakota State College of Science, which has the ability to project capability up to the northeastern part of the state.
Q: So it likely would be a partnership?
BURGUM: I think so.
Q: Is there a way to scale it upward to the four-year universities?
BURGUM: Absolutely. For example, Arizona State University started a charter school. Then after that, the university said, “What would a digital high school look like?”
So now they have a digital high school, and we found there are three kids from North Dakota going to ASU, doing their high school online.
Q: Career academies like the one at Arizona State do not currently exist at four-year schools in North Dakota?
BURGUM: No. There are some partnerships between our two-year schools, and they are doing innovative stuff around careers. Also, they have connections with high schools because of dual credits that are being offered. Some students in Grand Forks are taking a dual credit class at Lake Region State College and earning college credit, for example. And Lake Region is getting paid for that through the formula that we have.
Q: So you envision that this could happen at a four-year university like UND?
BURGUM: It could. Or UND could say “Hey, we want to do this in conjunction with our nursing program, with North Dakota State College of Science and Grand Forks high schools.” Then those three could form a partnership or collaboration and go.
And then you throw in the private sector, because the wind guys say they’ll give you equipment if you can train guys to help repair wind generators. And all of a sudden, you have a wind lab that the private sector paid for. That’s part of where the funding can come for these things.
At a career academy, people want to hire these kids before they even graduate. They are willing to put the equipment in there as long as someone else can provide the accreditation, the capability and teaching. They want to hire the product.
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Q: Why the push now for a Theodore Roosevelt presidential library?
BURGUM: The Park Service has basically put no money into the national park in North Dakota since the 1960s. Whether it’s the beautiful view that we have at Painted Canyon – that’s a 1960s rest stop with an amazing view – or the park entrance building, a cinder-block construction, you have 50 years where nothing has happened.
Today, they are willing to make a substantial reinvestment into Theodore Roosevelt National Park. So, if we are going to step up and do this library, we have a two-to-one match, the same as the Challenge Grant.
It’s $50 million proposed, and it will take $2 of private for each dollar of state money, but the private can come not only from individual donors. There also are a number of other groups, such as the Boone and Crockett organization, which was founded by Theodore Roosevelt; the Explorers Club of New York, of which he was a member; and the largest one being the National Park Foundation, which is an independent foundation which has got some of the nation’s biggest executives and wealthiest individuals serving on that board, and they are contemplating a $1 billion capital campaign to support the national parks as a partner.
There are 60 national parks, but only one that’s named after a person. They would have as a flagship of that campaign: “Hey, donate to us and we’ll go improve the parks, and guess what -- we’re going to do a presidential library for the guy who founded the Park Service, in one of our parks.”
Q: So this site is proposed at the park vs. Dickinson or Medora?
BURGUM: The site discussed with the National Park Service is at the entrance to the park, effectively in Medora. It would be a private project on federally owned property.
They have an example of having done that at Gettysburg. There is a $100 million museum and visitor center that is run by a foundation, but inside that building, you have uniformed Park Service individuals who are there selling park passes.
Q: Is there no presidential library, at present, for Teddy Roosevelt?
BURGUM: No, there is not. And it’s astounding because he’s written more books (at 142) than anybody else, and he has 150,000 documents. We have digitized 50,000 of them already at Dickinson State University, so it’s astounding to me that this hasn’t happened yet.
Q: Inside or right outside the park?
BURGUM: If we’re drawing a map of Medora, the land outside the park is very expensive because there is very little developable land, and there are lots there that might be $1 million. We would love it if it was inside the park, and the Park Service said, “Here is some land for it, you guys have at it.” That could be an in-kind contribution of $5 million just on the site alone. Right inside the park area, they have a maintenance shop that is there and a bunch of one-story housing. All that would get blown up. In their plan, they would go to multi-story housing someplace else that’s not on the multi-million-dollar beachfront in Medora, and they would pick up the maintenance facility and put it out in the middle of the park somewhere.
That would free up all of that space for a campus right there.
Q: Did the Interior Department have any role in deciding to move it from Dickinson to Medora?