North Dakota, Where Buicks Go to Die

The Economic Engine

Threshing grain. Beach, North Dakota
Threshing grain. Beach, North Dakota | Source

Hey, you guys talk funny!

The words “North Dakota” bring interesting visions to the minds of those uninitiated in the reality of the Northern Plains. The hearty residents of the state demonstrate a toughness that is difficult to find in other parts of our great country but they are also forced to endure an image formed by the movie “Fargo”. It is an image that is perceived as unflattering by the locals due to the quirky dialect over-emphasized in the movie. Almost cartoonish in its tone, I chuckle at the fact that the dialect featured in “Fargo” sounds an awful lot like the conversations I hear when I stop at the local Perkins Restaurant for supper and some pie. North Dakota is truly “the land of the long O” “dooooon’t you knooooow.”

It is a place of extremes, from the endless miles of carefully tilled farmland to the craggy wasteland that makes up the Bad Lands. The deadly cold and blizzards of winter are counter-balanced by the extreme heat and towering thunderstorms of summer. In modern times, it is rare that residents of a state should worry about physical survival but that concern exists with frequency in the midst of the North Dakota tempest and a winter car trip includes provisions a doomsday prepper would be proud of. Political diversity is common but only between the ultra conservatives and those that aren’t quite as conservative. Liberal thought is expressed in hushed conversation around the table at the local Starbucks as the fear of discovery by the well-armed residents of the state quiets this voice of entitlement. Necks are red in North Dakota both figuratively and literally as residents work hard, play hard and carry the deep seeded thought processes of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Bumper stickers portray a much different message than seen on the Subaru’s of Seattle. It is much more common to see a NRA or “Buy a Gun, Piss Off a Liberal” sticker than one that touts the Obama/Biden political ticket. Peace and love are already assumed and are represented in their family values; not plastered on signs carried by people shrouded in suspiciously hazy cloud formations accented by tie dyed clothes. To “Coexist” means the Germans eat lunch with the Swedes and it is rare to see a car with a “DARWIN” emblem emblazoned on a chrome fish with tiny legs. Residents have become desensitized to political correctness and the voices of their Grandfathers are heard being channeled through the crude jokes told around the coffee table. The relationship between the Caucasian race and the Native American race is strained at times as the cultures misunderstand each other. It is not unique to the State of North Dakota but is a problem of some magnitude.

In a recent Gallup Poll, the North Dakotans were named the most satisfied with their standard of living of any state in the country. The survey revealed 82.3% of North Dakotan’s included in this exercise expressed satisfaction, followed closely by South Dakota, Alaska and Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Ironically, the CDC issued a list of states with the highest DUI rates and North Dakota was also number one. Could it be a coincidence? Are these related? Is it that North Dakota has more efficient and well-funded law enforcement community or are there just more DUI’s per capita. In reading the results of the CDC report it is emphasizes they were from a survey of residents and according to the survey, 988 out of 1000 residents claim to have driven a car while impaired. This would appear to refute the idea that law enforcement is more effective at preventing drunk driving and instead leads one to believe that the opposite may be true. But even this conclusion is fraught with potential problems and should be suspect.

The bottom line may be that the people of North Dakota are just more honest than those in other states as the fess up to their sins. Statistics produced by the Justice Department reflect that the number of DUI arrests per capita in North Dakota is .585% which ranks 10th in the nation based on 2013 data. The States with more arrests per capita included Wyoming at 1.26%, Alaska with .766%, South Dakota with .751%, Idaho with .748%, Nebraska with .743%, Wisconsin with .71% and Arizona with .613%. The total number of arrests for DUI from least to most puts North Dakota as the state with the 7th fewest DUI arrests in the country at 4003 in 2013. The only states with fewer arrests were Delaware with only 215 arrests, Kentucky with 2363 arrests, Vermont with 2647 arrests and Rhode Island with 2778 arrests. Interestingly, the District of Columbia, famous for drunken scandals, had only 32 arrests with a population base of 617,966. That is only .005% per capita. It is hard to draw conclusions but Mothers Against Drunk Driving indicate that deaths related to DUI’s in 2012 were 72 where the blood alcohol content was .08 or higher. Alcohol related crashes for the same period were 1117.

Not intended as a treatise against the evils of alcohol, the facts may leave some wondering whether those voicing satisfaction with their lot in life have grown comfortably numb ingesting anti-freeze in the form of Jack Daniels or perhaps Bud Light. A more likely reason for the satisfaction is the fact that North Dakota’s economic engine is humming along at a pace worthy of a Ferrari. The oil boom has gone sonic and can be heard throughout this nation. The state with the third smallest population in the country is now considered by many as the most successful state in the nation when key statistics are examined.

1) The state experienced a population growth of 4.7% between 2000-2010. This pace did not keep up with the available jobs and the number of companies advertising for skilled employees has risen year over year.

2) North Dakota’s income per capita during that period rose from 38th in the nation in 2000 to 17th in 2010.

3) The average housing price in 2009 was just over $147,000 which was an increase of 160% over that reported in 2000. It has continued to increase due to housing shortages in the oil field.

4) North Dakota’s unemployment rate in 2010 was the lowest in the country at 3.7% bucking the nearly unprecedented sustained unemployment rate on a national basis.

5) The US Bureau of Economic Analysis in 2013 reported that for the third straight year, North Dakota’s economic growth outpaced the nation. For the 2012 fiscal year, North Dakota’s GDP increased 13.4% to $38.7 billion.

6) It is estimated by the US Geological Survey that over 4.3 billion barrels of oil lay in the Bakken Oilfield. In a recent presentation by oil executives sponsored by the State of North Dakota, it was stated that this number is likely higher as the field seems to stretch further than originally thought. They also said that only 9% of the oil resources are presently accessible using the technology of today.

7) North Dakota is now the 2nd leading oil production state in the country behind Texas and it is likely that the million barrels a day threshold has now been exceeded by the North Dakota oil producers.

8) Governor Dalrymple’s Office reports that the state has generated 102,100 new non-farm related jobs since the year 2000 (through mid-2013). The State’s budget surplus at the end of the 2015 budget cycle (June 30, 2015) is estimated to be in excess of $457 million.

The facts suggest that economic growth and stability are key to the satisfaction of the State’s residents. It is easy to enjoy a quality of life when bills are paid, costs are low, space is plentiful and recreational opportunity abounds. Those who choose a home in North Dakota are the types that don’t let weather get in the way of their fun and these rugged folks adapt to the extremes. It is not so far removed from the pioneer spirit that brought their ancestors to the Dakota Territory as homesteaders. The difference is the relatively well-heeled residents can quickly jump on a plane to find warmth in a tropical destination whenever the cold gets too oppressive.

Let’s face it, North Dakota is not the most exciting place on earth but it has a charm that most come to understand once exposed. As a recent transplant to North Dakota I am qualified to deliver some sage advice, “Come for the economic opportunity and stay because it is a great place to live.” Like Tom Bodett of Motel 6 fame, “We’ll keep the light on for you”.

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