Economic Diversification in North Dakota and the United States

In a post last week I compared the allocation of economic activity in North Dakota with the United States. North Dakota has a larger share of activity in agriculture and extractive industries, but less in industries like information. There are many factors that influence the share of economic activity including resource endowments, transportation networks, and the list goes on. Consequently you need to be careful drawing policy conclusions from differences in allocations between two geographies. It could be very easily explained by resource endowments, such as oil in the ground.

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Comparing North Dakota and the U.S.

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.

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The Beige Book for May

For those that do not know, this is the name of the Fed’s regional condition summary (available here). The Ninth District summary (which includes North Dakota) concludes that economic performance is mixed. Strength came from manufacturing, energy and mining, consumers, and a few others. The weaker sectors included construction, farming and real estate.

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Energy and the Economy in North Dakota

The shale oil expansion began in North Dakota, and the expansion of oil output in the U.S. has been nothing short of revolutionary. However, I think it is time to recognize that the fanciful notion of “energy independence” is less and less likely to happen, if it ever really had a chance. We are surely less dependent on foreign oil as the graph shows, but it is not clear that it is going to go to zero anytime soon, if ever.

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A tale of two cities

The big story for North Dakota is not just about oil in western North Dakota, it is about the adjustments to the underlying economic dynamics in the state. Consider the situation of labor markets in two North Dakota cities, Williston and Grand Forks. These data are for the Williston micropolitan area and the Grand Forks metropolitan area from 1997 to the end of 2013.

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