Everywhere you look, there are signs ND is in a period of “headiness” -- superlatives bounce off the walls. In its 2013-15 budget, the Board of Higher Education proposed $700 million of general spending and $150 million for campus buildings. Gov. Dalrymple proposed $365 million of housing incentives. Sanford Health plans $200 million of investment in western ND including a “super clinic” in Dickinson. Even the little town of Surrey, a few miles east of Minot, is planning development which will take its population from 1,000 to 10,000 -- there is explosive growth in many communities across western ND. The investments are responses to needs and opportunities, but come with risks. Despite efforts to maintain proper controls, rarely does any entity, be it a private organization or a state, have this type of growth without a few serious financial accidents.
Sanford moves with surprising speed. It has already completed a merger with Medcenter One in Bismarck and changed the name of the Bismarck facility to Sanford Medical Center Bismarck. Medcenter’s former president, Dr. Craig Lambrecht, is now president of Sanford West. Sanford and Medcenter clinics in Jamestown are being combined. The two organizations have an air force of six airplanes and four helicopters -- they will expand that fleet to serve the Oil Patch. Sanford CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft says “Sanford is the biggest geographic health system in the country, covering more than 220,000 square miles” with clinics in seven states.
ND has never had the present degree of sustained national attention. Historically, attention has come to the state largely because of natural disasters. That’s changed, testimony at a recent field hearing of a U.S. House committee referred to ND’s oil production and job creation as “a blueprint” for the rest of the country. The committee chairman said “North Dakota is where it is because of the state, not because of what Washington’s done for you.” The hearing was about “unnecessary and burdensome regulations” faced by states and the oil industry.
If you would like further proof that a little state is being stretched to its limits, hear this. First quarter sales in ND this year were up more than 50% from last year. Tax Commissioner Cory Fong said almost all of the state’s economic sectors are growing and most of the larger cities reported double-or triple-digit percentage sales growth.
Booming Oil Patch business trickles back to eastern ND. Hofmann Trucking has 70 people and fleet of 45 trucks dispatched out of its home office in Jamestown. Its Tioga branch has shower and bathroom facilities for drivers who then sleep in their trucks’ extended cabs. This is the company’s way of sidestepping a shortage of hotels and housing in the Williston area.
Strong economic recoveries in ND and other Great Plains states barely help national consumer spending. The Wall Street Journal says that despite soaring crop prices and oil, ND, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska contribute only 1.4% of the country’s GDP.
It’s an election year and more than the usual number of federal grants are being announced. Hopefully, all grants do some good, but the key question should be: Are the benefits needed and do they equal or exceed cost? The theater in New Rockford (1,400) received $60,000 from the USDA for a projector and sound system. The system allows people with hearing disabilities to enjoy movies. The Stump Lake Cafe, about 10 miles south of Lakota (750), did even better. The seasonal cafe will be rebuilt on higher ground at a cost of $570,000 -- the biggest piece of funding ($225,000) will come from a HUD grant. You may have had the misimpression your federal government was tightening its belt.
An equipment manufacturer likes to hire ND workers because many of them grew up on farms and learned to recognize and solve problems. I thought about that view when I read that the U.S. Dept. of Labor recently proposed rules which would prohibit children under 16 from operating farm equipment. The rule was withdrawn, but would have been tough to accept, particularly in ND where there is almost no regulation of child farm labor. Farm work is dangerous -- I operated farm equipment from the time I was 12 years old and know the problems. But life is about tradeoffs, in this case, the value of work and experience for teenagers against risks inherent in farmwork. Tightened rules are warranted, but they should be designed to improve farm safety, not to deny young people useful work experience.
The ND Board of Higher Education proposes to double the staff of the newly hired chancellor, Hamid Shirvani -- 30 new professionals will increase his annual budget by around $5 million and greatly centralize the authority of that office. This proposal follows some notable control failures at Dickinson State and NDSU. The Bismarck Tribune was very skeptical: “But the public may draw the line at doubling the chancellor’s staff . . . Everyone knows the state has the cash, but taxpayers are loath to see it wasted by creating more government for government’s sake.”
Minneapolis attorney Gordon Rudd Jr. is pleased damages from the Canadian Pacific derailment ten years ago in Minot have been settled and distributed. And well he might. The total settlement in the class action suit was $7 million -- attorneys for the plaintiffs received $3 million. As is often the case in class action settlements, attorneys get the biggest piece of a settlement, while individual plaintiffs receive little. In this case, 3,200 Minot residents shared $4 million, about $1,250 a person. The damages were for eye and breathing problems from anhydrous ammonia.
The checks are for you -- the cash is for me. Debra Glass faithfully followed this formula for many of the 13 years she was a bookkeeper for Becker Plastic Surgery in Bismarck. Bismarck police determined cash stolen and deposited to her personal account totaled $363,000. Debra will give up her bank accounts, retirement account, two cars and a lovely ring, but will still owe Dr. Rick Becker $100,000. Women commit the majority of embezzlements in ND -- Debra merely continued the tradition. It was Debra’s bank that tipped off the police -- Dr. Becker was apparently busy making tucks.
DAKTOIDS: Four ND counties adjoining the Missouri River account for over 80% of the state’s oil production. They are Mountrail (28%), McKenzie (22%), Williams (17%) and Dunn (15%) . . . NDSU’s twin-engine plane is an embarrassment. The aircraft, acquired during Joe Chapman’s administration for $2.3 million, is now on the market for $1.5 million. The plane cost $5,600 an hour to fly during the 2011 budget year.