North Dakota Journal, Part II


I’ve been taking a jaunt through North Dakota. For the first installment, go here. Where were we?

In Fargo, I meet Michael Chambers, the co-founder, president, and CEO of Aldevron. This is a biotech company, and, in fact, the first biotech company in North Dakota. Chambers is homegrown — the son of beekeepers in Carrington, N.D. The grandson and great-grandson of beekeepers, too. And he himself knows how to keep bees.

His wife, Victoria, is from Hazen, N.D. They met at a science fair, when they were 15 (I believe). She won.

Michael drove many times between Carrington and Hazen. Then, the two went to North Dakota State together.

This is something out of a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, isn’t it?

Aldevron has 100 employees. Michael says, “It’s kind of like a small family farm.” Indeed, his brother and uncle work there.

Understand the importance of being able to stay home — being able to stay in North Dakota, if you want to. For years — for generations — people had to leave North Dakota, to have a chance in life. There were few opportunities here. The state was emptying out.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico. One of her goals is to make New Mexico a state that people don’t have to leave, if they don’t want to.

A lot of people like to go far afield — for adventure, for a new setting, etc. But a lot of other people would like to stay home, or nearby. They want to marry, have a career, and raise a family near their parents, their grandparents . . .

Is that too much to ask?

Thanks to the oil boom, North Dakotans who left are returning home “in droves,” says Dennis Lindahl. He is a councilman and consultant in Stanley, N.D. He himself left and came back.

The state to the west, Montana, is known as “Big Sky Country,” but North Dakota has plenty of sky too. Holy-moly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much sky.

I meet a lady who quotes Kathleen Norris, author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. This is a place of “too much horizon, too much sky,” says Norris. The “essential indifference to the human can be unnerving.”

Here’s a bizarre fact: Kathleen Norris went to the Punahou school in Honolulu — same as President Obama.

Another lady, who lives in Tioga, N.D., says North Dakota has a “quiet beauty.” She adds, “You have to look closely.”

The chief oil regulator in this state is a man named Lynn Helms. Dennis Lindahl says, “Part of our success here is the result of his personality.” Helms is a calm, knowledgeable, patient man, who teaches people the facts of life in the oil patch. He gets along with all parties. He is a soother of nerves.

Is he related to the late North Carolina senator? (Not necessarily known for soothing nerves.) Yes, distantly. (I hasten to say that Senator Helms had other virtues.)

Lynn Helms grew up near Buffalo, S.D., a town mentioned in our first installment. He worked practically every job in the oil business, before becoming a regulator. He roughnecked his way through college.

He says, “I think it’s important for a regulator to have a working knowledge of the regulated industry. For example, what does a rule mean to a roughneck or to a production engineer?”

(I have quoted this bit in my National Review piece.)