Cashing the ND Oil Checks

Ty WebbAn uncashed check for 70 thousand dollars? Keep it.

It’s not just for Ty Webb anymore.

As North Dakota folklore goes, farmers are raking in more money than they can spend in a lifetime yet continuing to farm because what else would they do? Little old ladies are trying to cash checks for $5K then finding out the checks are actually for $50K and the bank needs notice to dispense that much cash. Couples in their twilight years are stashing cash in their rafters because they’ve never trusted banks before, why start now just because they have money growing on trees (or at least flowing underground).

I LOVE those farmers who will never live a lifestyle that belies their wealth. They are my grandparents. Their famed work ethic and humility are qualities I cling to as they become increasingly rare in this world. I fiercely adore  North Dakota because of the good and just people who’ve led such unpretentious, self sufficient lives, the state’s rep has gone global.

Side note: My brother lives in Los Angeles, where people with no money spend more money than they will make in their lifetime just to look like they have money. Ug.

I had the opportunity to ask North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani if he thought mucho money would change the soul of North Dakota. Bresciani has lived all over the US, most recently in North Carolina and Texas, where he says bigger is always better.

Not so in North Dakota.

“North Dakotans are almost embarrassed to be successful,” he says. “They are not intoxicated by the state’s abundant resources.”

Thank goodness! Intoxicated is a good word for the bad effect money can have on people.

Bresciani questioned what level of state budget surplus would be the threshold for North Dakotans to start feeling the intoxication. $2 billion… $3 billion? More money than could be spent down by current generations… At what point will our culture shift?

Bresciani has good reason to wonder. North Dakota State University has always been a huge economic driver in the state, and by Bresciani’s estimations, could be more so with an shot of increased investment. As he put it, you don’t underfund an economic engine. You overfund it. Even big oil puts its money behind education.

“Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity. But in a global economy based on knowledge and innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground.”
Barack Obama

“If NDSU is as successful as I think it can be, we will change the future of North Dakota completely,” he said. “We will attract and retain more young people, we will broaden our economic base and we will change perceptions of the state.”

North Dakota is blessed, no question. It’s silly to think we won’t get a little tipsy on the free flowing oil cash. But intoxicated? Then comes the hangover, the detox, the AA meetings and then… Never being able to enjoy your cash again. No thanks.

I’ll take Bresciani up on his offer for a twenty year check in to see how we’re doing. Till then, I’ll cheer equally loud for every millionaire farmer who stays humble and for every investment my state makes in education.


About Yo Adrienne Olson

Yo Adrienne Olson is a Fargo girl, a blessed mom, a lucky wife, an innovative communications professional and a closet entrepreneur.
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2 Responses to Cashing the ND Oil Checks

  1. Mark J says:

    Wholeheartedly agree – and at some point, the “bad” things that are coming with the good need to be highlighted and dealt with accordingly. Great case in point is the challenges EMS fokls are facing – in today’s Forum. Also – housing, this has to be a priority. Thanks for writing this.

    • Thanks for reading Mark! The article you refer to ( is one of a series of GREAT pieces by Patrick Springer about the challenges on infrastructure in oil country. We hear about all this big money, but I don’t know how many North Dakotans are actually benefiting from the big money, yet. I agree with Bresciani that the state will need to put some of the cash to work and invest in infrastructure, education, etc. We are smart enough and strong enough to handle this!


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