Minneapolis or Denver? Two popular American cities -- both have good air service from ND -- which should you visit? To assist with this question, I used the website of Travel+Leisure. I had no preconception, so the outcome was a bit of a surprise: Minneapolis swamped Denver. T+E found Minneapolis people friendlier, more intelligent and more attractive than Denver. Grrr, but Denver people were much more athletic. Don’t look for diversity in either city. Culture and shopping, no contest, Minneapolis walks away. One thought -- Denver has a very fine airport -- perhaps go no further.
What are top destinations for ND flyers: No. 1 Las Vegas, No. 2 Minneapolis and No. 3 Denver, trailed by Phoenix and Chicago.
A tale of two cities. The GF Herald is bullish about the ND oil industry; The Fargo Forum is, well, something else -- we can’t be sure. Herald economist Ralph Kingsbury was still excited from a trip he took with a GF delegation to the Williston-Minot part of the state. Kingsbury clearly thinks the oil boom is the real thing, “What’s happening across western North Dakota isn’t just a flash in the pan . . . No one ever expected anything like this.”
The Forum had faint praise: “North Dakota’s oil boom is great news for the state’s economy, but the sustained, reliable economic engine that is Fargo is better news in the long pull” and “Booms, by definition, come and go.” The Forum was almost ominous when it predicted: “the blowback that surely will come when negative social and environmental impacts of accelerating oil activity assert themselves in oil zone communities.”
So what’s going on here. What is The Forum’s objective? Does it feel western ND is getting too much press -- does it want to pull the center of attention back to Fargo? Does The Forum think excitement over the oil boom masks an impending hangover?
The Forum is clearly right in one respect -- there is going to be a second stage to the oil boom where related costs and needs become apparent. Incredible traffic and demolished roads are already on the screen. The Minot Daily News spoke of the shortage of labor in the oil industry and the impact on other industries. Job Service of North Dakota said, “Agriculture can't compete with the kinds of wages paid by the oil companies either, but it isn't alone in that peril.”
The oil boom is accelerating. Williston was ND’s No. 5 city in taxable sales in 2009 -- in the first quarter of 2010, it skipped over Grand Forks and Minot to become No. 3. As mentioned here earlier, NY-based Hess Corp. is plowing $325 million into an expansion of its Tioga natural gas plant. Now, Mistral Energy is proposing a 430-mile, $300 million pipeline to move ethane (a natural gas component) from the Hess plant to a Nova Chemical plastics plant near Red Lake, Alberta. The Nova complex, one of the largest of its kind in the world, is owned by an Abu Dhabi investment firm.
U.S. Highway 52 in ND is a workhorse -- from Portal on the Canadian border, the road slices southeasterly through Minot across two-thirds of the state before joining I-94 in Jamestown. Hwy 52 has only two lanes, but is attracting heavy truck traffic. On the same July day, a collision involving a semi-truck on Hwy 52 near Fessenden hospitalized two and another forty miles away near Carrington killed both drivers.
The Bismarck Tribune joined the editorial chorus calling for urgent federal action on Devils Lake flooding. The Trib says if the lake overflows “water quality issues will be washed down the Sheyenne River no matter what the Clean Water Act or treaties with Canada say.” The Trib sees federal regulation and inaction as the main problem, “The state has done everything it could to deal with the flooding.” Gov. John Hoeven hopes for three recommendations from a White House interagency group: Waive the Clean Water Act, expedite permits and let water out the east (salty) end of the lake.
If you are bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod (70,000 members) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (pause for breath) you must deal with weighty policy matters like guidelines for gay and lesbian clergy. Bishop Mark Narum also gets to hit some soft pitches, such as describing “God’s Global Barnyard,” a synod sustainable agriculture project.
We may have the makings for a new Halloween horror movie. Imagine the heroine, amidst darkness and crashing lightning, fleeing rolling 1,300 pound hay bales. Winds of 100 mph near LaMoure drove hay bales up to a quarter of a mile across fields. Toss in a few grain bins for variety.
Some of ND’s little public colleges struggle to justify themselves. Take Dakota College at Bottineau -- it’s considering a day care center for the elderly and disabled. The college would help with toilet and meals. A necessary public service? Possibly, yes. A necessary part of the mission of the ND University System? You decide.
Yum, taste the slowly simmering buffalo tongue. Try the buffalo liver, it’s “Indian Candy.” These experiences were part of a camp where a buffalo was butchered as part of cultural training for Ft. Berthold youth. Kids prepared the meat in traditional ways, cooking in a pit of heated rocks.
Is ND getting serious about battling its weight problem? A 200-seat restaurant called Jake’s will be opening in Grand Forks, the featured specialty -- deep-fried polish sausage.
DAKTOIDS: In the annals of ND weather, 1936 stands out as the hottest and coldest. In July that year, Fargo had eight straight days with temperatures exceeding 100; on September 22 the temperature went to 101 and temperatures have not reached 100 since (info from WDAY/Forum weatherman Daryl Ritchison) . . . Minot native Rear Admiral Mike Miller replaces Bismarck native Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler as Supt. of the Naval Academy . . . The Jamestown Sun (a Forum paper) silenced its 40-year-old press, released a few employees and moved its printing operation to W. Fargo . . . The front-runner attracts money -- Gov. Hoeven’s senatorial campaign has raised 30 times the donations of opponent Tracy Potter.
SUPPLEMENT: Summary of Fedgazette Article About North Dakota: “The little economic engine that could”
The Fedgazette is a monthly publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (the 9th District) covering ND, its adjoining states, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The article was written by the Fedgazette’s editor Ronald Wirtz in the July 2010 issue. The article attempts to explain why the ND economy is an anomaly in the 9th District and the nation. Following is a summary:
What a difference a decade has made
The state’s economy “sticks out like a diamond.” During the past decade the state’s per capita personal income ranking has risen from 39th in the country to 19th. ND’s has posted “top-of-the-class numbers” in unemployment, income growth and other categories.
For much of the decade ND’s growth was overlooked as the nation enjoyed a housing boom. But when the country entered recession, ND continued against the tide adding jobs in 2008 and 2009. In the past two years, the state had job growth in almost every employment category. So, in part, it’s the contrast with the nation that has brought ND attention and praise. The state easily has the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
The state has not been entirely spared -- its manufacturing sector looks more like the nation’s. Bobcat, the maker of small four-wheel drive loaders, is one of ND’s largest businesses and serves national and international markets. It has severely downsized during the recession. Many of the state’s small towns continue their death spiral as rural areas lose population.
Reasons for success
The quick and easy explanation for ND's out performance is the oil boom in the western part of the state. The state has in a short time become the fourth largest oil producing state. While oil is a large factor, the author points out that coal and agriculture remain big parts of the state's economy.
Fargo's economic diversity, with health care, the F-M colleges, and companies such as Great Plains Software and Scheels sporting goods, also contributes to a stable economic mix.
One of the biggest factors in ND’s success is what didn’t happen. ND didn’t participate in the residential real estate boom. As one Fargo banker put it “the housing market never got out of whack here.”
Most people interviewed for the article did not expect the ND economy to unravel, although an extended drop in oil prices would be troublesome. ND’s prosperity is relative and, as the country hopefully rebounds, ND’s growth could be expected to lag. While most Nodaks are not farmers, the author believes the state maintains a farmer’s mindset -- “modest, perpetually optimistic, yet conservative.” A tendency to discount prosperity, not project it. Michael Solberg, president of State Bank & Trust in Fargo, said ND residents have “a steady mind frame.”