A few days ago, the tiny North Dakota town of Williston, got a big name visitor. The town of less than 27,000 was in the news because well known billionaire, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg was in town. The tech giant was in town to take a trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and to learn more about the oil industry, the more noteworthy part of his surprise visit.
This is not the place most billionaires have on their bucket lists, but Zuckerberg described his visit as a chance to learn more about how hydraulic fracturing, ie. fracking.
While Zuckerberg clearly learned a lot about the industry, he might have learned something even more valuable, why 80% of these people voted for President Donald Trump.
This surprise appearance, and the coinciding photo ops, gives more fuel to the fire that the billionaire is planning to enter politics, and at the presidential level. That’s what happens when one billionaire and political novice enters the fray, and hits a home run on his first swing.
While both President Trump and Zuckerberg are both billionaires, very successful and very public figures, that is where the similarities stop, for now. The Silicon Valley CEO is famous for his stances on universal basic income, increasing the number of H1-B visas, which displace American workers at a financial benefit to tech companies, and wanting America to bring in more refugees. I doubt many of the people Zuckerberg met on Tuesday have the same take.
During his visit Zuckerberg toured a drilling rig and participated in an energy round table discussion, where he is reported to have asked a lot of questions.
Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, who was on the tour with Zuckerberg noted that the co-founder was “extremely intrigued” by not only the oil technology but the personal stories of the people who worked in the town.
“He had more questions than we had time,” Ness said.
Another oil executive, Shawn Wenko, executive director of the Williston Economic Development office also commented on how personable Zuckerberg was.
“He came across as a very nice guy, very open to conversation.” Wenko added, “We were excited that, of all the places in the world he could choose to go, he chose to come here and understand the oil and gas industry.”
The oil and gas industry was happy to show off the benefits their community experienced from the fracking boom, and give overflowing praise to the new Trump administrations approval of the Dakota pipeline.
Their joy with the presidents decision was so obvious, that Zuckerberg later commented on this in his Facebook post.
“When the Dakota Access Pipeline was approved, that removed $6-7 per barrel of cost from producing oil in the region, which brought more investment and jobs here. A number of people told me they had felt their livelihood was blocked by the government, but when Trump approved the pipeline they felt a sense of hope again. That word “hope” came up many times around this.”
Hope. Less costs (due to fewer government regulations). More jobs. People vote for you. If you’re not running for president, it means at least they will like you.
Being a real estate developer, an industry familiar with the heavy hand of government, candidate Trump understood this winning formula, and he stuck to it. Being a tech CEO, an industry that is more known for doing much more with fewer people, Zuckerberg is seeing up close the human side of job creation.
Further in Zuckerberg’s very centrist post, he said:
“They believe competition from new sources of energy is good, but from their perspective, until renewables can provide most of our energy at scale, they are providing an important service we all rely on, and they wish they’d stop being demonized for it.”
While many may oppose some of Zuckerberg’s liberal ideas, this tone of unison, listening to each other, taking down the heated, very offensive rhetoric and demonizing those who disagree is very refreshing, and needed right now.
After Obama’s hollow promises of “Hope & Change,” Americans still wanted to have hope and they saw it in Donald Trump’s consistent message of jobs, jobs, jobs. Not only did Trump push for jobs, but for Americans to have those jobs. That hit home, because people knew it would hit their pocketbooks. This hit, under a pro-business president would be a positive, much welcomed, and needed hit. This was a major change from the previous president who hit their pocketbooks with more fees, costs, taxes and less take home pay.
For 8 years, the Obama administration did everything it could to stop fracking jobs, but just a few days after taking office, President Trump approved not only the Dakota pipeline, but the Keystone pipeline as well.
Like with his promise to put the coal miners of West Virginia back to work, Trump is following through on his promise to approve get energy workers working again. The energy industry was not something the candidate demonized, but recognized as an economic boon to America’s middle class because these projects create many high income jobs and bring in millions of dollars to local economies.
Zuckerberg recognized the benefits, saying, “these are good jobs where people with a high school diploma can make $100,000 a year.”
Maybe Mr. Zuckerberg is looking at where Hillary Clinton failed. She did not have a clear economic vision or jobs plan. In fact, many voters saw her plan as more Barack Obama, whose policies, actions and beliefs hurt many middle class families. It did not help that Mrs. Clinton said she wanted to put coal miners “out of business” and promised that if she became president there would not “be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”
There is a good chance that that is why she is taking hikes in the woods right now, instead of jetting off to France to meet with their new president, like President Trump.
Before he left, Zuckerberg asked the local family that he enjoyed a parting dinner with for one favor. “He said, ‘If there are any news reporters that call you, just make sure you tell them I’m not running for president.’ says the father, Mr. Moore.
We shall see if Mr. Zuckerberg remembers what he learned if he ever decides to run for president.