Wednesday, June 12, 2019 - 01:30 pm

VAIL, COLO. – The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) today elected North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum to serve as WGA chair for 2019-2020, on the final day of the association’s three-day annual meeting in Vail.

Burgum began his one-year term by announcing his central policy initiative for the coming year, titled “Reimagining the Rural West.” This initiative will examine challenges and opportunities in rural economic development, infrastructure and quality of life, with the goal of recommending policies and best practices to support vibrant and enduring rural communities in the West.

“Being elected to lead the Western Governors’ Association is a tremendous honor, and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to build upon the bipartisan, common-sense policy development that has become synonymous with WGA,” Burgum said, thanking Hawaii Gov. David Ige for his outstanding leadership as chair this past year. “By Reimagining the Rural West, western governors can work together to solve our workforce shortages, improve our economic health and enhance the quality of life for all citizens.”

WGA will conduct a workshop and webinar series for the initiative that assembles stakeholders, policy experts and thought leaders to discuss emerging issues, share success stories, and develop bipartisan solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the rural West. Burgum announced that the first workshop will be Oct. 1 in Fargo.

The initiative’s primary objectives will be to:

  • Identify federal policies and programs that are not adequately serving rural communities in the West and develop consensus on recommended changes;
  • Identify a suite of tools and best practices that governors can employ to strengthen rural communities; and
  • Amplify diverse stories about the rural West to counteract the outdated and often negative perceptions that contribute to urban-rural divides.

Areas of focus will include broadband connectivity, economic diversification and strategies to help rural communities be attractive, viable places to live for existing and prospective residents. The chair’s initiative aligns with Burgum’s Main Street Initiative for North Dakota, which supports creating healthy, vibrant communities with smart, efficient infrastructure to attract and retain a skilled 21st century workforce.

Burgum also announced today that North Dakota will host the WGA 2020 Annual Meeting next June in Medora, showcasing one of the state’s top tourist attractions. The announcement included a 3½-minute video promoting North Dakota and its influence on President Theodore Roosevelt, produced by the North Dakota Tourism Division.

Burgum served as WGA vice chair for the past year. The vice chair has traditionally served as chair the following year. Today’s announcement was made by Ige as he concluded his one-year term as chair. The governors also elected Oregon Gov. Kate Brown as vice chair at the meeting.

The WGA represents the governors of 19 western states and three U.S. territories, supporting bipartisan policy development, the exchange of best practices and ideas, and collective action on issues of critical importance to the western United States such as agriculture, energy, water economic development and natural resource development.

Twelve governors attended this year’s annual meeting: Burgum, Ige, Brown, Jared Polis of Colorado, Gary Herbert of Utah, Lourdes Leon Guerrero of Guam, Laura Kelly of Kansas, Brad Little of Idaho, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Mark Gordon of Wyoming.

Discussion topics included biosecurity and invasive species, Ige’s central policy initiative; connecting rural communities through broadband access; and using data and forecasting in water management. Governors also heard keynote speeches from U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, among others.