Fargo native and UND student Ben Olson has announced he is running to represent Ward 1 on the City Council in Grand Forks.
Olson is running to replace Terry Bjerke, who is running against Mike Brown for mayor and will step down from his seat on the City Council. His opponent, UPD Police Officer Danny Weigel, has announced his candidacy for Ward 1 as well.
Ward 1 is one of the seven wards in Grand Forks. It consists of Northern Grand Forks, from 55th St. N., all the way south to Columbia and Demers Avenue. It encompasses most of the UND population and buildings.
“I serve up to half of the UND population and those that live in
those apartments, and the other constituencies that live within the area,” Olson said in an interview with the Dakota Student.
Olson is a sophomore at UND and is majoring in Public Administration, Communications and a certificate in Entrepreneurship. He believes “it is unique to have a perspective of graduates and undergraduates students and someone to work with them.” Although he believes that this will help him relate to the voters of Ward 1, he also noted the difficulty of campaigning in a district where many of the voters are students from elsewhere.
“It will be challenging because part of my Ward is gone on voting day,” Olsen said.
Voting day is June 14, 2016, which means the student population will decrease noticeably by the time voting occurs.
Olson is a member of the UND forensics team and is active within the Grand Forks public school system as a coach for speech and debate. He is the treasurer of the UND’s Business Student Advisory Council, and in 2015, he was the first student at UND to be named the Stanford University Innovation Fellow.
Olson believes owning his own small business makes him a better candidate for City Council. He started up his own 3-D printing company in Grand Forks, 3C Innovators, with his business partner Jon Puhl. The two started up 3C Innovators after looking into the rapid prototyping that 3-D printing has to offer and seeing a need for it in the Grand Forks community.
Olson has experience as an intern within the city government. Working in the mayor’s office, he provided entrepreneurship assessments around the community. In these assessments, he worked with a group from UND to preform surveys for local businesses. Olson states that this study was able to “measure what was going on in Grand Forks, but also provide concrete ways for other communities working towards this to try increase things like community engagement.”
Olson plans to focus on business development within Grand Forks if elected.
“I want to move forward on concrete business plans that can cement recent graduates from The University to actually want to stay here,” Olson said.
One idea he believes could benefit Grand Forks would be the taxi service, Uber.
Affordable housing is also one of the issues Olson is trying to improve; Olson believes Grand Forks needs more affordable housing for students in the area.
Olson says he is generally opposed to new taxes, but he is willing to support a sales tax increase if its something his constituents support and is economically viable for the city.
“I must first get their (residents of Ward 1) knowledge and their input on what they feel is necessary for Grand Forks” Olson said. “I need to analyze the economic feasibility of these policies going forward, and whether the post sales tax will be harmful or beneficial to Grand Forks.”
Olson believes his running for City Council could make a huge impact. Being the first known student still in school to run for city council, Olson believes his past experience can make great attributions to Grand Forks.
“If we want the representation and awesome things to happen, we need a student’s perspective that can see what’s going on; who relates to student problems, and who knows the students, who can connect,”
Haley Olson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student.
She can be reached at [email protected]