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Sunday, July 8, 2001

Just changing 'North' won't keep economy from going south

TRIBUNE EDITORIAL BOARD, Bismarck Tribune

 

Upper Dakota, Northwest Carolina, Lower Alberta.

No name will change the fact that North Dakota sits closer to the North Pole than it does to the equator.

Minnetana, Montesota, Baja Manitoba.

No name will change the fact that this is a rugged, beautiful -- and occasionally cold -- place filled with friendly, hard-working people who enjoy a high quality of life.

Nike Dakota, Dodge Dakota, New Canada.

No name will change the fact that North Dakota needs to foster economic growth and progress to ensure that its quality of life remains high.

Whether you're applauding or appalled by the idea of dropping the "North" from North Dakota, the suggestion, which is part of the "New Economy Initiative" being promoted by the Greater North Dakota Association, has opened a valuable dialogue about what we must do to survive and thrive.

U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan said during a meeting with the Tribune this week that changing the state's name is an issue for citizens, not for politicians, to decide.

He's right, but beyond our state's name, our future, too, is for citizens to decide. That future may lie in part in value-added agricultural products, in the health-care or high-tech industries and in tourism. Government can help lay the groundwork, but ultimately the future lies in the entreprenuerial spirit of people who love this land, regardless of what it's called.

Comedians and columnists, politicians and pundits have weighed in. They've gotten their laughs and moved on to the next story. But the citizens of North Dakota are left to make a success of this state and of our lives.

More than 150 people have logged their opinion on changing the state's name at bismarcktribune.com, the Tribune's Web site, and 97 percent of the comments reflect opposition to the change.

We're in agreement.

Put the effort and expense of dropping the word "North" toward meaningful change, fostering economic growth and educating people and the business community about what North Dakota has to offer. Gov. John Hoeven got it right when he said, "I'm more focused on getting out there and talking about all the wonderful things we have here, whether it's quality of work force, quality environment, great tourism, great education."

But the discussion this debate has prompted is not without purpose. Former Gov. Ed Schafer points out, "If there's one thing that could come out of a name change, I think that it would be a catalyst to examine ourselves ... . Too often, we get into the trap of saying we want it to be better, and we want things to grow and move, but we're not willing to do the things it takes."

This dialogue is constructive, but it is only a first step. North Dakota's population grew a scant 0.5 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census, the lowest growth rate in the nation. The population in 47 of North Dakota's 53 counties actually shrank, some by as much as 20 percent.

Time is of the essence; we must act before our way of life further erodes. We must first retain, then grow, our population. And we need to position ourselves to compete for the business opportunities of the future.

"North Dakota" has a nice ring to it. Let's hope it doesn't take a name change to spur growth, but let's stay open-minded, creative and unafraid of change as we plot a course for the future.

-- Dave Bundy for the Tribune


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