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Ballesteros: Keep ND’s economy healthy for the long run

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Recently while viewing content from a website I regularly visit, the author of an article had a point that really peaked my interest.

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The article by Daniel Gross entitled, “Russia is Europe’s Gas Station,” really made me see the comparison of how North Dakota is becoming America’s gas station. It goes on to talk about how Russia “subsists largely by mining, drilling, digging and harvesting natural resources, and selling them … without turning them into manufactured goods or otherwise adding value. Oil and natural gas are among the most valuable of those resources.”

A greater portion of North Dakota’s economy is based on the trade of fuels and research shows it. According to a recent Forum News Service story by Mike Nowatzki, which cites a Job Service North Dakota report, “North Dakota’s thriving oil and gas industry accounts for nearly 1 in 7 (14.2 percent) private-sector jobs … and accounts for 28.5 percent of wages.”

North Dakota could produce more private sector jobs and even higher wages if we focused on adding value to the natural resources we export, or creating an economy where we can manufacture goods at a reduced cost because of inexpensive and plentiful energy. This line of thought also goes with the TV advertisements that BP is currently airing.

BP says that energy drilling in Alaska creates jobs throughout the U.S. Just like Alaska, North Dakota also creates jobs in other parts of the country and, at the very least, money that is earned here in the oilfield is sent back to families in other parts of the U.S. Every barrel of oil that we export to be processed out of state creates jobs in another part of the country. This is wonderful for the U.S. economy, but why not just process that oil here?

I believe that North Dakota’s natural resources are like an inheritance being passed down from one generation to the next. We can go out and spend money like a celebrity and have a good time until the inheritance runs out, or we can invest the money in ourselves and create perpetual generational wealth.

We should invest in ourselves and plan for a future without oil. In other parts of the world and in cities like Dubai, they understand that oil will not be around forever, so they are planning for a future based on banking, research and other infrastructure developments.

They are investing in themselves and making sure that they will be around long after the oil runs dry. Just like Dubai, we can make investment choices or consumption choices and we should be making as many investment choices as possible.

Even if North Dakota never runs out of oil, what is the point in not having a backup plan? Area natives will tell you that they plan for harsh winters, save accordingly and practice thrift. These are all good characteristics of the previous generations, but what about the current generations? When I was young, my grandfather would tell me to pray for the best and plan for the worst. Although my family and I are deeply religious people, we are also incredibly pragmatic.

What is the point of purchasing a home site and construction materials just to sell it to someone else and without adding additional value? I could have added value to the commodity myself, or by using local personnel, to build a home and reap the benefits, but here in North Dakota we are allowing someone else to add value to our commodities and keep the benefits.

In my opinion, our backup and investment plans should be to build research, educational, agriculture and banking facilities to plan for the future. We should finance this future by keeping more of our money in North Dakota by adding value and processing our oil, gas and agriculture products here. I believe that this plan would keep the North Dakota economy healthy for many generations to come.

Ballesteros is a gas engineer for Montana-Dakota Utilities in Dickinson.

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