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Thursday
Jul072011

Boom Town- Fargo ND

Tired of looking for a job, only to find no one is hiring?  Head north.

If you are willing and able to pack up and move, you might find better luck in North Dakota. That’s right, North Dakota, where the unemployment rate is only 3.2 percent.

Much of this improvement in economic fortunes has occurred over the last 12 months. The North Dakota Employment Office has a list of more than 15,000 job openings. That’s up 64 percent from the same time in 2010.

What’s responsible for the state’s sudden burst of economic activity?   Oil.

It turns out there is lots of it in the western part of the state, which is part of the Bakken shale region. The soil and rock contain millions of barrels of oil, and high prices for oil and new extraction technology now make it profitable.

The Fargo area (population 190,000) is known as “prairie valley” because of its technology jobs.  Microsoft has a Fargo Campus.  Highly educated technology specialists from all over the world are moving to Fargo.  The cost of living in Fargo is almost 50% less than New York City and Northern California. 

North Dakota has been riding a wave of media adoration as of late, buoyed by low unemployment numbers and the massive oil strike. But 42 of its 53 counties still posted population losses in the 2010 Census.

Since North Dakota has such a small population – fewer than 700,000 people live within its borders – it needs to import workers. The oil industry work force has risen from fewer than 5,000 people in 2005 to more than 35,000 today, with many jobs still open.

With oil pumping so much money into the economy, other sectors of the economy are growing as well, and competing for employees. Fast food restaurants and convenience stores are offering incentives, and starting pay close to $12 a hour for entry level employees.

At the same time oil is lubricating the economy, the state’s other economic pillar – agriculture – is also booming. Commodity prices are up and world-wide demand for food shows no sign of letting up.

A few decades ago U.S. workers migrated from northern manufacturing cities to the Sunbelt, to take new jobs as plants closed and moved offshore. Some economists think the same trend could take place in North Dakota.

North Dakota is hardly the Sunbelt. Winters are long and cold and the summers are hot. Spring brings flooding.  The average low in January is below zero and the temps regularly dip into double digits below zero in the winter.

But it’s a healthy place to live (for your lungs at least).  In 2009 the American Lung Association declared North Dakota’s largest city, Fargo, the cleanest city in the U.S., based on air quality.

There’s a good chance you may not be familiar with North Dakota in spite of their economic boom.  With 646,000 residents living in an area of more than 70,000 square miles, North Dakota is one of the least populated states in the U.S. Its remote location, sandwiched between South Dakota and Manitoba, and lack of a major urban center mean that it is not on many tourists’ to-visit lists (Fargo, with 90,000 residents, is by far the largest city).

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