I've been following the reactions to our article "The Emptied Prairie" and wanted to share a letter I recently sent to the governor of North Dakota. Thank you to everyone who has written in with comments--we value your insights and opinions.
From Governor Hoeven:
Dear Mr. Johns:
The recent article about North Dakota in the January 2008 issue of National Geographic was way off the mark. To give the magazine’s readers a more accurate picture of our state, I’ve asked our Commerce Commissioner and Tourism Director to contact your editors and invite you back to cover what you left out – the fact that North Dakota is a growing 21st Century state with a bright future.
What you left out is the fact that North Dakota has a growing economy, well educated citizens, low crime, great infrastructure and one of the cleanest environments in America. All this adds up to a great quality of life. Our cities are growing, and our rural areas are finding new ways to create jobs and opportunities for our people.
For example, new ethanol and biodiesel facilities are transforming rural communities like Richardton, Underwood, Hankinson, Casselton, and Velva. Just a few years ago, North Dakota produced less than 40 million gallons of ethanol a year. With these new facilities, we will produce half a billion gallons. Your article also makes mention of the “moan of the wind” on the prairie, but that same wind is on its way to producing nearly 1000 megawatts of clean renewable energy on commercial wind farms across North Dakota.
In addition, Dakota Growers Pasta, a native North Dakota company, is now the third largest pasta manufacturer in North America, and other value-added enterprises like it are helping agriculture in North Dakota change and grow.
These are all small town, rural enterprises that reflect the spirit and ingenuity we have in North Dakota. Your article featured the small town of Mott, N.D., but failed to mention that every fall it is a destination for pheasant hunters from around the country and around the world. It’s ironic that you represented this town with a photo of an abandoned homestead, when a more revealing image for your readers might have been a photo of sports fans lining the highway for 18 miles last year to cheer on the local football team, the Wildfire, on its way to the state championship games in Fargo.
Whether it’s tourism, agriculture, energy, manufacturing or technology, North Dakota is moving forward. We’re home to innovative firms like Microsoft Business Solutions, a subsidiary of Microsoft, which now employs 1,400 people at its Fargo campus. The company is currently expanding and will add nearly 500 more employees by 2010. Other companies, like Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, Goodrich, Cirrus and Aerosmith are working to manufacture technically advanced components for the U.S. military and aviation industry.
As a consequence, we’ve created thousands of new jobs and careers. Our research universities and Centers of Excellence are creating the businesses and products of the future; our manufacturing sector is one of only a handful in the country that’s expanding; and our energy sector is supplying the nation with clean, efficient energy, from both renewable and traditional sources.
For all of these reasons, and more, North Dakota is garnering national attention as a great place to live and work. This year Forbes Magazine has ranked the state of North Dakota 9th among all states for Business and Careers. Among 180 cities nationwide, Bismarck ranked 2nd and Fargo 4th. Most recently, the Beacon Hill Institute last month announced that North Dakota ranked 4th among all states for competitiveness – 1st in infrastructure and 4th in human resources.
There is certainly growth and opportunity in North Dakota these days, but more importantly, there is a mood of optimism across the land. At the same time, we are working hard to take our efforts to the next level, and an article that showcases the spirit, inventiveness and progress we’re making would certainly be in order. I encourage you to take a broader look at our state and help us convey to the world what North Dakotans already know: that North Dakota is a great place in which to live, work, visit, study, have fun, and do business.
Dear Governor Hoeven:
Thank you for your interest in “The Emptied Prairie” in this month’s issue of National Geographic magazine. There seems to be some misunderstanding about our intent in writing the article.
Our article was never intended to be an in-depth look at the economy of North Dakota, nor were we attempting to offer a portrayal of the state in its entirety. We were looking at the rural North Dakota landscape and probing the stories behind some of the abandoned homes that still stand.
We are well aware that there is more to the state than these abandoned towns. In fact, we have written or mentioned North Dakota in 17 articles in the past 10 years, including a short feature on Fargo in November 2003. In the case of our January ‘08 article, we wanted to tell personal and touching stories of North Dakotans’ relationship with the land and how that landscape has shaped their destiny. The stories we told in the article speak to me of fortitude, and, yes, sometimes regret. I’m confident our readers will understand what these stories tell us about North Dakotans’ strength of character and resolve – both of which will shape the future described in your letter.
Again, thank you for taking the time to write. We always welcome our readers’ thoughts.
Editor in Chief