Port: North Dakota's reputation as a business-friendly state is sure taking a beating

"There's probably a legislative solution to this problem, and maybe, one day, when our lawmakers are done chasing all the gay people out of our state, they'll get around to it."

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Workers investigate a water main break outside the offices of HighRoad Partners in February 2023.
Contributed / HighRoad Partners

MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota is a business-friendly state, and that's been a key to our state's recent fortunes. Over about 15 years, we've gone from a state with an aging, shrinking population to one that's growing. Our state has one of the youngest populations in the nation.

But are we still business-friendly? Recent events say "no."

Summit Carbon Solutions, a leader in the nascent carbon capture industry, which has the potential to reap huge returns for our state's energy and agriculture economy, has come under fire by political ideologues whose latest tactic is to weave a scary fairy tale about evil foreigners owning the company.

Meanwhile, as our state grapples with a chronic workforce shortage, our state Legislature is doing everything possible to drive the LGBTQ community to other places. People identifying with that community represent about 7.1% of the population, and that's almost certainly low. The number of people self-identifying has doubled over the last decade as the community emerges from the shadows of oppression and bigotry.

There is no reason why the people in that community couldn't find peace and happiness and prosperity in our wonderful state, except for our ugly politics, which makes them feel persecuted and afraid. And who can blame them when we have state lawmakers and their supporters condemning them as "groomers" and "pedophiles" and worse?


Though it's not just politics. In terms of policy, we have problems too. Consider this woeful anecdote, courtesy of Michelle Kommer, a businesswoman who formerly served as the Commerce Commissioner in Gov. Doug Burgum's administration.

Kommer recently decided to buy a Minnesota-based business and move it to North Dakota. She bought a building in Fargo that would serve as both office space and a home for her family. But, shortly after moving in, a city of Fargo crew doing work on a water main outside the building caused the basement of her building to be flooded.

Water ran into the basement for hours. At one point there was nearly 5 feet of water, with a current. Personal items were destroyed. The property was severely damaged. "I saw one of my daughter's baby shoes traveling in a current that came around a corner; it was then I realized the severity of the situation," Kommer said.

And the response from the city of Fargo? And the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund, which serves as a self-insurance fund for political subdivisions in the state?

Nothing more than an apology.

"A spokesman for the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund expressed sympathy for Kommer's situation, but maintained that under state law, the city and therefore the agency are not obligated to cover any losses arising from the water main break," David Olson reports, which is a hell of a message to send to other businesses thinking about moving to our state.

Come to North Dakota, where the government will flood your basement, and then you can pay for it.

According to Brennan Quintus, the CEO of the reserve fund, his organization can only pay out if the city of Fargo is legally liable for the flood. He says that the state Supreme Court has ruled that the government is immune to claims of damage resulting from the operation and maintenance of water systems.


This means that if a political subdivision in the state of North Dakota damages your home or your business, or even harms somebody with a flood resulting from the operation or maintenance of a water system, you're just out of luck.

You'll have to recover on your own. But the bureaucrats, I'm sure, will all express their deepest sympathies.

Kommer told Olson that "the ordeal was the worst welcome-to-North Dakota gift imaginable," and, well, yeah. Who can argue with that?

There's probably a legislative solution to this problem. A way to ensure that North Dakota citizens and businesses aren't collateral damage when something like this happens. And maybe, one day, when our lawmakers are done chasing all the gay people out of our state, and once they're finished indulging their personal pecuniary interests, they'll get around to it.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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