• Image about North Dakota
Old-town charm, one-off shops and a strong sense of history draw visitors
to friendly downtown Fargo.
North Dakota Department of Commerce commissioner Shane Goettle also embraces the agrarian ethic as a contributor to North Dakota’s success, but he also credits careful planning at the state-government level. When times were not as good during the last recession in 2001, the state carefully deliberated on how to dedicate its public resources and investments to sparking new growth and providing that stable business climate that has garnered so much praise. “We determined that we had significant growth potential in energy as well as value-added agriculture and manufacturing, technology-based business growth and tourism,” he says.

The strategic plan that came out of those planning meetings had a direct link to the state’s current prosperity.
A dependence on oil and agriculture is risky. In the 1980s, western North Dakota experienced a bust in its oil development, and even to this day, as the state finds itself in the middle of a boom period, that region is still hedging its bets on investing too quickly on necessary infrastructure such as roads and housing.

Because of what they learned from the earlier oil-dependent boom-and-bust cycle, Fargo and other major cities in the state have deliberately expanded the diversity of their economic base to ensure that if one sector of the economy slips, there will be enough other sectors to carry the load.

Maren Daley, executive director of Job Service North Dakota, says, “I’m certainly not going to say there’s been no boom or bust — because there was an oil bust in the 1980s. But diversification has developed in the state, and we are seeing some new growth in industries that helps balance out some of the risk. Our economy is not 100 percent dependent on ag-commodity prices or 100 percent dependent on oil prices. Diversification helps spread the risk.”
However, she says, the state still has a shortage of skilled workers. “We show job demand across all industries. New positions are constantly changing, getting filled with new ones coming on.”

Newcomers in the last year have arrived from every one of the other 49 states. Brandon Potter moved his family of four in April from Tremonton, Utah, to Fargo so he could take a position as a senior programming manager at the 80-acre Microsoft campus. A lot of considerations went into the family’s big move, but Potter noted that Fargo had one of the strongest economies in the nation, a low crime rate and good schools. “I didn’t want to go someplace that was sinking,” he says. “There just seems to be a holistic goodness about the people here. Very friendly. We came up and visited the area, and people were friendly. The values here just seem to be really good and in line with where we are for the most part. … And the educational system and recreational opportunities for them are better here.”

Patricia Fisher is an academic librarian at Valley City State University. She was recruited to Valley City from Brooklyn, N.Y., where she was working as a “woefully underpaid law librarian,” she says. And although she misses the Coney Island Boardwalk and New York’s Jewish cuisine, she loves the five-minute walk to her job, grocery store and fitness center, plus the fresh air. “Ask me in January, though!” Fisher says.

Oh, yes, those infamous winters. Sarah Johnson, talent marketing manager with the department of commerce, says that people contemplating a move north rarely ask about the winters: “The weather does come up, but not as often as you think. If it does, it’s question 10 or 12 in the conversation. Employment’s the number one concern, cost of living is number two, quality of life is number three.” That’s the Dakota Spirit.