A caller to the radio show last week questioned why the North Dakota economic experience seemed is such stark contrast to the Minnesota situation. (She asked this while almost getting hit by a school bus breaking traffic laws.) There are a couple of reasons for this, one pretty easy to explain on the radio, and the other is visual and so is not as easy to explain. I should point out the two stories are not in opposition to each other. That is, they can be part of the same larger narrative.
One of the questions I hear constantly has to do with the impact, or potential impact, of an industry on the local economy in Grand Forks. To be clear, there are no clear rules on which industries will have the highest impact. There are multiple factors influencing such outcomes, such as the supply chain factors in the local economy, the response of the consuming public, whether the business is in a “new” industry from the perspective of the local economic portfolio or will be competing with existing firms, and so on.
Numerous stories and sources document the growth of the North Dakota economy over the last decade. The North Dakota economy grew by leaps and bounds over this time, and economic development started in many industries and in many counties. Recently, somebody asked me about the contribution of oil over the last several years. This question is in contrast to the often asked question regarding which industry is most important in the North Dakota economy currently.
I imagine the different sectors of economic activity in any state argue about their relative importance. Lately the contest in North Dakota has been about the relative importance of agriculture and mining. My personal opinion is that if the data support an actual argument of this point than you are fortunate enough. These debates rage though and so I tend to investigate. There are many different ways to approach these types of questions but I am not going to go through a refereeing of different methods. I will just go through what I think the data are trying to impart to us.
JT and I talked about the issue of economic development in Grand Forks on the Jarrod Thomas Show today. Let me preface my remarks with a recognition that economic development is a difficult process, whether we are talking about managing it, reacting to it, hoping for it, or whatever. Development can inherently alter relationships in an economy, and in unpredictable ways. (Note I am not advocating management of economic developing because I think that often creates its own issues but we can discuss that later.)
I get many questions about local economic development these days. The specific geography is usually either Grand Forks, city, county or metropolitan area, or the counties in northeast North Dakota. These questions come on the radio, from newspaper reporters, and general conversations from the public. The basic form of the question is, “What can or should Grand Forks do to grow and develop?”
You can tell it is an election year. There are all kinds of polls being done (my household answered more than a few) about all types of issues. I heard some discussion (and if I can remember where I will post any available link) about how is North Dakota doing, as in an attitudinal survey. My guess is that people will say, overall, that North Dakota is doing well. I am not a huge advocate of such surveys because they typically seem too vague to me. I prefer to track more definite numbers when possible. Here is median income in North Dakota and the United States.
The growth occurring in North Dakota as a whole, and in most of the sub regions within the states, is quite impressive as media stories no doubt impart. Being a dismal scientist I pointed out many times here and on the Jarrod Thomas Show (1310 KNOX AM, shameless plug I know) that the growth in the oil patch represented a potential constraint on growth in communities like Grand Forks. While many disagreed with me I offer up the following trends that should give people pause.
One of the more common questions I get, from students, people at the store, on the radio, is: how would the U.S. economy would perform if it was more like North Dakota? It is a natural question given the strong performance in North Dakota and the weaker performance in the U.S. At some level this makes the comparison of growth a bit more consistent because the distribution of activity is made identical between multiple regions. In demography/population analysis (a class I am teaching this summer) the process is called standardization. It is essentially the same idea as calculating real gross domestic product with base year prices to control for the effects of price changes on growth. So lets take a look at unemployment and real GDP for the US, MN, and ND.
Time to bore the readers with numbers. I was on Al-Jazeera in America last week talking with Ali Velshi regarding North Dakota’s energy sector. I have to admit that a live television interview was really exciting. Let’s get on with the numbers though.