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State official relies on NDSU degree in work to bring intermodal rail to North Dakota

Photo of James Leiman

James Leiman

An NDSU doctoral degree in transportation and logistics put James Leiman in the right place at the right time. After 20 years of work, North Dakota officials recently announced new intermodal rail service will come in North Dakota.

Leiman is the director of economic development and finance at the North Dakota Department of Commerce. He worked closely with the BNSF Railway and partners across the state to finalize arrangements to bring the service to the state. Leiman credits coursework from the NDSU College of Business’s Department of Transportation, Logistics, and Finance for preparing him to face the challenges posed by the project. Leiman earned his doctorate in 2019 and for his dissertation he quantified the cost and economic impact of intermodal and multimodal operations in Nicaragua – challenges that applied directly to the situation in North Dakota.

Robert Hearne, professor of agribusiness and applied economics, was Leiman’s doctoral adviser. Hearne said Leiman was always interested in the practical application of his research. “He was very excited to get the opportunity to pivot from the analysis of transportation systems in eastern Nicaragua to the application of multimodal transport in North Dakota,” Hearne said.

“The analytical skills necessary to work closely with BNSF, shippers, producers, logistics managers as well as transportation professionals were derived from the Transportation and Logistics Program,” Leiman said “Everything from understanding loads, solving sophisticated network challenges using linear programming, having in-depth knowledge of commodities in the region and global trade patterns were taught in the course of study.”

“Adding intermodal in North Dakota, a process which reduces the number of touch points, will reduce shipping costs for agricultural producers by an average of 15 to 25 percent. This is especially critical given the global economic environment,” Leiman said.

“Given the global demand for North Dakota products, this is a game-changer,” Gov. Doug Burgum said in a news release earlier this month. “Producers and processors across our state will now have access to competitively priced transportation, which will enable us to further grow and diversify our economy.”

The benefits of Leiman’s degree extend far beyond his work on the intermodal project. In his work with the Commerce Department, he uses systems-level problem solving for major economic growth initiatives in the state. “That requires the ability to interpret, analyze and act on data,” he said. “Getting ahead of trends enables the state to be much more competitive in a global economic environment.”

Leiman also is director of the Veden Center for Rural Economic Development at the University of Minnesota Crookston which provides thought leadership and engaged scholarship for rural economic development issues across the Midwest.

When he began the NDSU doctoral program, Leiman was city administrator of the city of Ada, Minnesota. He previously was chief of integration and synchronization with the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs and a senior program analyst with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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North Dakota State University
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