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Area business leaders tell Sen. John Hoeven: There's too much federal red tape

Republican Sen. John Hoeven shakes hands with Joe Rothschiller, president of Steffes Corp., on Wednesday at a roundtable meeting at the Strom Center in Dickinson. Hoeven met with business leaders from southwest North Dakota to hear various concerns, including worries about federal regulation affecting energy, manufacturing, small business and education development.

Bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., have wrapped red tape around everything from commerce and manufacturing to road construction and education, but local business leaders would prefer that oversight of regulations come from 100 miles away in Bismarck rather than from more than 1,000 miles away in the nation's capital.

Southwest North Dakota business leaders asked Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., to help cut federal regulation impeding different stages of energy, manufacturing, small business and education development at a roundtable discussion Wednesday at the Strom Center in Dickinson.

While they recognize a need for regulation, most in attendance preferred a states-first approach they feel will streamline processes, a better fit for the rural nature of the state.

"With the federal government right now, there's just too much regulation," Hoeven said. "It doesn't matter whether I talk to people about energy, ag, high tech, manufacturing, you name it, any industry says all these federal rules and regs are really tough."

Along with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Hoeven played western North Dakota tour guide Tuesday to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell hoping to sway her to allow states to regulate fracking, rather than the federal government.

"We wanted to get her out here because hydraulic fracturing is so important to us and we want the state to continue to be the lead -- have the lead role in regulating hydraulic fracturing," Hoeven said.

"What we're trying to convince them is that we should have a comprehensive energy plan for the country the way we do for North Dakota, but it shouldn't be a big kind of federal one-size-fits-all plan. It should be a states-first approach where federal government has a plan, but it really allows states to take the lead in terms of regulating and developing their energy resources."

Many of the southwest North Dakota business leaders agreed with Hoeven's proposal for state-based regulation.

"I just want to say thanks for what you're doing," said Joel Bleth, founder of Medora Corp., the company that makes SolarBees. "You're picking battles you can win and you're applying common sense."

Regulations hit schools with initiatives like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, Dickinson Public Schools Superintendent Doug Sullivan said.

"I can't even count the number of hours that we spend trying to comply with regulations and new things that are not going to contribute to improving education," Sullivan said.

Federal regulation has affected the school lunch program, said Guy Moos of Baker Boy.

"I think you have frustrated, confused school food service professionals and you have hungry kids," Moos said.

Kindergarten through eighth grade have the same regulations, as do ninth through 12th grade, Hoeven said.

"A senior going to football practice and all that, he is under the same restrictions as ninth grader who, I don't know, maybe it's a little person and their very inactive," Hoeven said. "I mean, how dumb, right?"

Another big issue facing businesses, even those in the oil industry, is the lack of affordable housing.

"It's tough on some of our employees," said Terry Kovacevich of Marathon Oil. "Until that supply gets out there, the prices are still too high."

The types of loans developers get are often the cause of high rents on new construction, Ray Ann Kilen said.

"If the banks aren't trimming them out into a schedule that's allowing for lower rents, if they're charging $2,000 a month, it's because they need to cash flow that unit," Kilen said.

A 24-unit apartment building recently opened in Killdeer and the Dunn County community is already set for more, said Patricia Hedger of Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing.

"We've already been asked if we would consider building more," Hedger said.

The city of Dickinson recently offered the assistant city engineer position to a gentlemen for $80,000 per year, City Administrator Shawn Kessel said. He turned it down because the three-bedroom apartment he needed for his family would cost more in Dickinson than it would in San Francisco.

"When you have people -- that's pretty good money and we still got turned down," Kessel said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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