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Published March 07, 2013, 10:23 AM

Grand Forks Officials to Visit Bismarck to Lobby for Local Needs

During a legislative session in which higher education disputes have dominated the news, a group of Grand Forks leaders will be reminding lawmakers and elected officials of projects important to the region.

By: Christopher Bjorke, Grand Forks Herald

During a legislative session in which higher education disputes have dominated the news, a group of Grand Forks leaders will be reminding lawmakers and elected officials of projects important to the region.

“Controversies don’t help us get there,” said Bruce Gjovig, director of UND’s Center for Innovation, referring to legislators’ reactions to some of North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s proposals and management style.

Gjovig will be one of about two dozen people who will be at the state Capitol Thursday and Friday for a series of meetings known as Grand Forks Day.

The group will be meeting with several state leaders, including Shirvani, to talk about UND, unmanned aircraft systems, the Grand Forks Air Force Base, infrastructure and other items important to the city.

On the itinerary are discussions with Gov. Jack Dalrymple and leaders of the Department of Commerce, the North Dakota National Guard, the Department of Transportation as well as the university system.

The organizations providing members of the Grand Forks delegation are Grand Forks city government, the Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., Grand Forks County, UND and the airport.

Members of the group will give updates on a plan to develop a business campus at the Air Force base for UAS-related businesses, base expansion efforts and infrastructure goals, including interstate interchanges at 47th Avenue South and Merrifield Road.

EDC Director Klaus Thiessen said UAS initiatives were tied to nearly all of the region’s economic development goals.

Higher ed

For a university town, however, higher education is still central.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the session had supported big-ticket needs such as expansion and improvement of its medical school and law schools, so the Grand Forks group does not expect to push for those bills. Instead, the trip and the meeting with Shirvani will be chances for Grand Forks leaders to build ties with the university system’s leader.

He did not expect flare-ups over higher education — including proposed legislation to buy out Shirvani’s contract, the chancellor’s plans for a UND office or a request for an expanded university system staff — to be directly addressed.

“Really, it’s more of an opportunity for the chancellor to share his plan,” Johnson said. “There’s all sorts of things going on, but he’s our chancellor.”

Gjovig said the meeting would be a chance to direct attention back to the needs of higher education, and away from its controversies and the danger that “the chancellor being controversial makes higher education controversial.”

Over the past few sessions, the oil boom of western North Dakota has driven much of the Legislature’s agenda with massive infrastructure needs and billions of dollars in tax revenues to support it.

With the new influence of western North Dakota, it is also important to make a case for Grand Forks’ role in the energy boom, such as “educating petroleum engineers, for example, or educating practice-ready attorneys in the School of Law,” said UND Vice President for University and Public Affairs Susan Walton.

Gjovig said the trip was important as a reminder for lawmakers.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “We do not want to be out of mind.”

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