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Editorial: February 2014

Amid change, co-ops welcome diversity

By Dennis Hill

North Dakota is changing. The state is growing rapidly, and our once mostly homogenous population is looking somewhat different these days. That’s created a new vibrancy and excitement for the future, but leaves some folks wondering what’s happened to the quiet stability, familiarity and slow pace that characterized our state for so long.

U.S. Census estimates released recently show that for the second year in a row, North Dakota led the nation in percentage population growth. Now with nearly 725,000 people, the state has gained more than 50,000 new residents since the 2010 Census.

After many years of outmigration, young people are coming to North Dakota in droves to work in the oil patch or explore other opportunities the state provides. The result is North Dakota now has the highest percentage of 20 to 24 year olds in the nation, the median age of our state residents has dropped from more than 39 years in 2005 to about 36 years today, and maternity wards are full, with more than 10,000 babies delivered in the state in each of the last two years.

Newcomers to our state represent different races, ethnicities and cultures, and bring with them new ideas, traditions, foods and languages. Did you know that more than 400 foreign-born school children in the Fargo Public Schools speak about 50 different languages?

Last month, the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives held its annual meeting featuring the theme, “We Shine as One.” In keeping with this theme, we invited a diverse panel to discuss the topic, “Bringing People Together.” The panelists included a diversity expert, a Native American leader, a human resources professional and a young cooperative board member.

Bringing people together is one of the things cooperatives do best. Cooperatives operate according to seven guiding principles, the first of which is that as voluntary organizations, cooperatives are open to all people able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

It’s easy to follow this principle of inclusiveness when most people look and think alike. We really give this principle its full meaning, however, when we have the day-to-day experience of working and living in communities that are increasingly diverse.

North Dakota is on the move and growing rapidly. Amid all this change, let’s go out of our way to welcome our new neighbors, accept and better understand the cultures of our native populations, mentor and encourage our young people and new workers, and take advantage of the increasingly rich diversity the state is experiencing to build an even better North Dakota in the years ahead.

Dennis Hill, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Mandan. Comments can be mailed to Dennis Hill, NDAREC, P.O. Box 727, Mandan, ND 58554-0727 or by email to