Note: This column is written as the introduction to The Dickinson Press’ annual Progress edition, which begins Sunday, Feb. 1 and continues each Sunday through March 22.
You see them every day. In supermarkets, at your job or school, as you sit down to eat, or when you drive past a construction site.
Almost everywhere you look in southwest North Dakota, people are achieving the so-called “American Dream.”
Western North Dakota, for the past five years or so, has been a place where just about anyone could get back on their feet. There are people here who were broke only a few years ago but now have thriving businesses or jobs that pay very well. Others were simply able to get out of debt after falling on hard times elsewhere.
Now, however, as we enter a time of simultaneous progress and uncertainty, there seems to be few willing to say the good times are over, even if the boom is.
At 125, state remembers where it has been, wonders where its going
Growing up, my favorite class was always history. If there was one class that I actually paid attention in, it was Mike Schatz’s history and government classes at New England High School. (Except for that one time when I dozed off during a movie day. But, c’mon, who didn’t do that in history class at least once?)
As eighth-graders, Schatz taught one semester of North Dakota history and government. It was longer than the required minimum set by the state, but he was the type of teacher who felt that North Dakota kids should take time to learn more about their state rather than something that happened 1,000 years ago in a European country that no longer exists.
That class still resonates with me today. Ask my California-born and Montana-raised wife what I’m most proud of and she’ll say, “Being a North Dakotan.”
Today, North Dakota celebrates its 125th birthday as a state. It’s a time to look back at where we’ve been and where we’re going.
Last week, one of my work colleague’s struck up a conversation with a Dickinson newcomer who had recently moved here from Idaho.
The man said he had left an economically depressed area but was doing well here. Still, he had no intention of bringing his family to Dickinson so that he could both work and live here. Why not? It was economically infeasible for him to do so. He was making good money but not enough to find an affordable living situation to make the move work.
So, here the man stays, working hard away from his family and sending most of the money he earns in North Dakota back to his real home. Like so many others, he’s not much more than a visitor to our city and state.
This man’s story shows a reality of what’s really happening in Dickinson and western North Dakota.
Everywhere one looks, Dickinson and southwest North Dakota is changing and growing.
There are new people living in new homes and apartments, new stores alongside new places to eat and recreate, a new school and another likely in the works.
No matter which way you look at it, the city is in the midst of massive changes. Most of all, we’re making progress.