Economic development leaders testify against bill prohibiting foreign ownership of property in state
The testimony was made during a House Agriculture Committee hearing on Feb. 3
BISMARCK — Economic development officials in Grand Forks and the state provided testimony in opposition to a bill that would prohibit foreign ownership of real property in North Dakota and would retroactively apply to ownership interests in property acquired after July 31, 2020.
The testimony was made during a House Agriculture Committee hearing on Feb. 3.
Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, said House Bill 1503, as originally written, would have negative impacts on businesses already in the state.
“There are numerous examples of businesses across North Dakota that would be negatively impacted by this and I think as a result North Dakota would be negatively impacted by this,” Lund said.
Cirrus Aircraft, which began operating manufacturing facilities in Grand Forks in 1997 under Dakota Aircraft Corporation, was a main discussion point during the hearing. Cirrus Aircraft was acquired by China Aviation Industry General Aircraft in 2011. Cirrus Aircraft purchased its manufacturing facility from the city of Grand Forks in January 2021 for $2.1 million.
Prior to the acquisition of Cirrus Aircraft by CIAGA, Lund said Cirrus and CIAGA went through a review process with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
Lund, along with Mark Schramek, executive director of corporate affairs with Cirrus Aircraft, stressed that if the bill passes as currently written, the sales agreement between Cirrus Aircraft and the city of Grand Forks would be voided and require them to divest of the property within one year.
The Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce also provided similar written testimony in opposition to how the bill was originally drafted.
That divestment of the property would be a “major issue” for the company, according to Schramek.
“This is our major manufacturing facility here in the U.S.,” Schramek said. “We had plans to expand an additional 35,000 square feet beginning here in 2023. We want to increase our workforce by an additional 150 employees over the next five years. We’ve grown in just the last three years from 240 to 430 employees.”
When asked about the annual reporting Cirrus Aircraft does, Schramek said the company has a national security agreement in place that requires the company to monitor and report on any data that’s released to the Chinese government, including upgrades being made to aircraft.
“Any upgrade has to be approved through the U.S. government prior to actually being exported to China,” Schramek said.
Amendments to the bill, which were discussed during Friday’s hearing, address the retroactive piece of the bill.
Those in favor of the bill cited the Fufeng wet corn milling plant , which was proposed to be built in Grand Forks. The future of the plant has recently hit a stop after the Department of the Air Force provided an official stance on Fufeng concluding the proposed plant's proximity to Grand Forks Air Base presents a "significant threat to national security."
Grand Forks resident Jodi Carlson spoke at length about the timeline of the Fufeng project and the opposition the project was met with in Grand Forks. Carlson asked committee members to consider moving the bill forward to prevent foreign governments from buying land in the state.
“Any land purchase, not just agricultural land, from our foreign adversaries must never be allowed, let alone left up to a few people to decide,” Carlson said. "Rezoning current agricultural land to industrial takes a motion and a second to accomplish and we saw that within our community. Our state can do better. Our citizens of this state deserve better. And we ask you to please be the voice to ensure that we receive better.”
The committee also heard testimony for two other bills related to foreign governments purchasing agricultural in the state.
If it becomes law, legislation in House Bill 1135 would bar a foreign government and businesses they control from purchasing, acquiring, leasing or holding any interest in agricultural land in North Dakota. It would not affect land held by a foreign government before July 1, 2023.
Rep. Larry Klemin, R-Bismarck, told Forum News Service previously that he decided to sponsor the bill after several constituents raised concerns about the Fufeng wet corn milling plant that was proposed to be built in Grand Forks.
A proposed amendment to the bill provided by Klemin would be to exempt the government of Canada and exempt leasehold interests.
Another bill related to foreign governments purchasing agricultural land is House Bill 1356, which seeks to create a state agricultural foreign investment review board. The board would approve the acquisition of an interest in agricultural land.
The board would be made up of the agriculture commissioner, the governor's general counsel, the securities commissioner, one member of the legislative assembly, selected by the chairman of the legislative management and a national or state security or foreign policy expert appointed by the governor.