Monday, September 24, 2012

Steve Bullock and the pipe-dream choice between high-tech and oil/coal

There's not a lot of burning news in the Montana energy world this week that I felt worth commenting on, so how about discussing Attorney General Steve Bullock's recent comments?

He is trying to play the old "high-tech vs. extraction industry" game that Democrats love. Democrats don't want to be accused of being entirely anti-business, and yet they want to keep their base happy, which is largely anti-business in practice. So what to do?

For one thing, talk a lot about alternative energy and all of those ethereal "green jobs" they think could be created if only enough government funding could be thrown at it. I've already expressed my opinion on what I think about trying to force alternative energy technologies into mass production that aren't ready for prime-time, so I won't go on about that.

The other game to talk up is the "we want high tech" thing. Here's Bullock:

There’s no way Montana shouldn’t be leading the nation and being the next Silicon Valley...

Well, duh... who doesn't want high-tech jobs in their states? Name one governor who doesn't want to have "the next Silicon Valley."

A couple of states spring to mind as ones who are making serious strides. Texas for one, and North Dakota for another. Here is an interesting quotation from the latter article:

Doug Burgum, known locally as the godfather of software for building Fargo’s Great Plains Software into a billion-dollar business, told attendees at a conference last week that the absence of “massive socioeconomic problems” makes North Dakota an ideal place for tech companies to grow.

“We have a state with a surplus. We can invest in the future,” Burgum said. “If you’re in Illinois, you are not having this conversation because you’re talking about the possibility of the state actually being bankrupt.”

Exactly. As I have pointed out before, there are two important factors needed to attract companies -- high-tech or otherwise. One is an overall healthy climate for business from a tax and regulatory standpoint, and another is bursting state coffers. To quote myself:

There are those who want Montana to try to attract "green jobs," high-tech industry, or even manufacturing instead of promoting the grubby business of extracting coal, oil, and natural gas from the ground. The reality is that in order to attract business, a state needs a "grub-stake," as the old time prospectors used to call it.

"Only" 25% of state revenue comes from energy in North Dakota, but what that revenue allows for is tax structures that promote other kinds of business development in the state. Broad-based economic growth requires a positive attitude toward business in general, and the North Dakota experience is proving that.

So let's come back to Attorney General Steve Bullock, who unlike the current governor has voted against developing Otter Creek coal. In general, he has made the obligatory symbolic gestures to act like he is supporting natural resource development like coal, oil, and gas, but when it comes right down to it he is far more anti-energy than our current Democratic governor and can therefore be reasonably expected to accomplish even less in terms of energy development -- and Montana is being left in the dust as it is.

Montana does indeed need to continue to look for ways to further diversify our economy, including encouraging high-tech and other non-energy related industries to start or relocate here. Doing so, however, requires a commitment to across-the-board business development, including robust traditional energy development. Think Rick Hill.

Absent that, Bullock and Montana Democrats can indulge in all the pipe-dreams and empty rhetoric they want to about wanting to be "the next Silicon Valley."

As 49 other state governors would say, "good luck, and get in line, bud..."

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