Letter: Tech entrepreneurship drives new economic growth in ND

Letter: Tech entrepreneurship drives new economic growth in ND

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North Dakota has long taken a pro-growth approach to its economy, and since my time as governor, we’ve worked to implement a business climate that encourages investment and innovation. This helped expand our primary industry, agriculture, where we seized opportunities to add value to the crops we grow. On top of that, our state has become a major force in global energy production due to our efforts under the EmpowerND initiative. Following these expansions, we are now seeing the third wave in North Dakota’s economic growth – tech entrepreneurship. This trend has created entire new sectors in our state’s economy. But more than that, it ties into and bolsters our leadership in agriculture and energy. 

The growth of our state’s tech sector came into sharp focus during this year’s 1 Million Cups (1MC) Reunion in Fargo, where I joined Elinor Coatings, a local company based at the NDSU Research and Technology Park, in announcing that they had been awarded a $3.2 million Air Force contract. The company’s coating technologies showed clear benefits for protecting the nation’s military vessels, which is why I worked as a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee to fund this research in fiscal year 2019 and connected Elinor Coatings with Air Force officials to help advance the company’s bid. 

This investment will help further Elinor Coatings’ future growth and is just one of the many successes of our tech entrepreneurs that we celebrated at 1MC. As we recognize this and similar achievements, it is important to remember that these developments don’t just happen -- they come through years of effort to create an environment that fosters such growth. We have worked with our state’s universities as well as partners like the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce and Emerging Prairie to establish a start-up ecosystem throughout the region and promote opportunities for innovation. This includes not only developing new sectors, like mobile technology, biotech and unmanned aerial systems, but also applying these technologies to further strengthen and grow our state’s existing industries, like agriculture and energy. 

That’s where Grand Farm comes in, a project led by Emerging Prairie that seeks to demonstrate the next generation of precision agriculture through autonomous technology. Precision agriculture offers a real opportunity for farmers and ranchers to improve efficiency and the return on their investments. By developing this technology right here in North Dakota, we will ensure our producers remain on the cutting-edge and can continue to compete in the global marketplace. 

Through my role as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, I am working to ensure Grand Farm is in a strong position to receive federal support. To this end, I secured the funding for the Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) Grant Program and the Agriculture Innovation Demonstration Center (AIC) Program in the fiscal year 2020 funding legislation that was recently passed by the Senate. These programs support innovation in rural regions and services for agriculture producers, and I included report language for the RISE program that would prioritize projects like Grand Farm. 

In order to implement data-intensive technologies such as autonomous equipment and precision agriculture, we’re going to need robust broadband infrastructure in our rural areas. That’s why I worked to secure $1.1 billion for the ReConnect Program across fiscal years 2018 and 2019. This is a loan and grant pilot program targeted to rural areas that currently lack access to quality broadband service. 

Further, we passed the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. This bill created a task force under the Federal Communications Commission to ensure adequate broadband connectivity on farm and ranchland. The FCC finished establishing the task force last month, and it includes North Dakota resident Seth Arndorfer, CEO of the Dakota Carrier Network. 

Throughout history, advancements in technology have been the driving force behind growing our economy, and this trend continues to accelerate. Our efforts to date has helped create waves of growth in agriculture, energy and now tech entrepreneurship. We continue working to move this progress forward and apply these innovations to all of our industries to build a strong foundation for the economy of our state, now and into the future.

John Hoeven is a Republican U.S. Senator from North Dakota.

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