Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kotkin: "Why North Dakota Is Booming"

Joel Kotkin on North Dakota:
Oil also is the principal reason North Dakota enjoys arguably the best fiscal situation in all the states. With a severance tax on locally produced oil, there's a growing state surplus. Recent estimates put an extra $1 billion in the state's coffers this year, and that's based on a now-low price of $70 a barrel.

North Dakota, however, is no one-note Prairie sheikdom. The state enjoys prodigious coal supplies and has—yes—even moved heavily into wind-generated electricity, now ranking ninth in the country. Thanks to global demand, North Dakota's crop sales are strong, but they are no longer the dominant economic driver—agriculture employs only 7.2% of the state's work force.

Perhaps more surprising, North Dakota is also attracting high-tech. For years many of the state's talented graduates left home, but that brain drain is beginning to reverse. This has been critical to the success of many companies, such as Great Plains Software, which was founded in the 1980s and sold to Microsoft in 2001 for $1.1 billion. The firm has well over 1,000 employees.

The corridor between Grand Forks and Fargo along the Red River (the border between North Dakota and Minnesota) has grown rapidly in the past decade. It now boasts the headquarters of Microsoft Business Systems and firms such as PacketDigital, which makes microelectronics for portable electronic devices and systems. There are also biotech firms such as Aldevron, which manufactures proteins for biomedical research. Between 2002 and 2009, state employment in science, technology, engineering and math-related professions grew over 30%, according to EMSI, an economic modeling firm. This is five times the national average.

While the overall numbers are still small compared to those of bigger states, North Dakota now outperforms the nation in everything from the percentage of college graduates under the age of 45 to per-capita numbers of engineering and science graduates. Median household income in 2009 was $49,450, up from $42,235 in 2000. That 17% increase over the last decade was three times the rate of Massachusetts and more than 10 times that of California.
Here's a case of great minds thinking alike: Last year, North Dakota topped the BHI's Annual State Competitiveness Index with its strong showing in our Government and Fiscal Policy, Infrastructure and Environmental Policy measures.

The complete 2010 State Competitiveness Report is available here.

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