Commission seeks regional solutions

Minnesota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1995  | October 1995 issue

Citing outmigration, an aging population, low per capita income and stressed natural resource industries, among other concerns, Congress established the Northern Great Plains Rural Development Commission in 1994 to study economic needs and development. Through public hearings that begin next month, and from the input of its 10 commissioners, the development commission will seek solutions that don't depend on government programs, but that emphasize "marketplace efficiencies at little or no actual cost," according to the commission's executive director, Jerry Nagel, University of Minnesota, Crookston.

The commission covers the five northern plains states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa; its 10 commissioners were appointed by the state governors and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The marketplace orientation of the commission is borne out by the membership, according to Nagel-all members are either business operators or have business backgrounds.

In a mostly rural region, agricultural issues are naturally a high priority, but other important issues include the increasing potential for international trade and business development, telecommunications, health care, housing, worker training and cooperation among states, as well as between business and local government. In Nagel's view this pragmatic approach makes the commission unique.

For example, when the commission reviews telecommunications, Nagel says, it may investigate how service providers, like lawyers and teachers, address the issue of licensing when telecommunications allows them to deal with clients across state borders. Do lawyers, for example, need to be licensed in each state? Is there a way to handle this potential impediment by using marketplace answers, rather than depending on government?

What about grower-owned cooperatives and delivery of agricultural products? Under the current system the co-op must be federally and state licensed at a cost of about $50,000 each, Nagel says. While Minnesota exempts members from state membership fees if the federal membership criteria is met, not all the states in the region do, and what about commerce between the states in the region?

In creating the commission, Congress listed many specific duties, for example:

  • Develop a profile of, and a description of, resources devoted to economic development, human resources, infrastructure and natural resources.
  • Study and evaluate coordination and "best practices" of government, business, schools and non-profits and other groups.
  • Identify effective methods for promoting development on Native American reservations.
  • Study the availability of methods of delivering public, private and non-profit capital and technical assistance for business start-ups and expansions, including farming and ranching.
  • Assess the comparative cost of doing business.

To ensure that the commission is examining issues seen as most important by the region's citizenry, public hearings will be held in each of the five states. The first two are slated for Pierre, S.D., Nov. 20, and Bismarck, N.D., Nov. 21. Both meetings will connect to other areas of the state via the Rural Development Telecommunications Network. Nagel says that these hearings are vital as the commission wants to get citizen input-what does the public see as the region's future?

The commission plans to present its final report to the president, the state governors, the Secretary of Agriculture and others in August 1996. Nagel says the report will include developed action plans and strategies.

Diane Wells