See what happens when your state develops its abundant amounts of oil and coal (lignite) and, to a lesser extent, wind and biofuels when the nation’s economy demands energy? You wind up having a front-page story in The Washington Post promoting the availability of jobs…
A couple of thoughts about the story, which is a pretty good summary of the state of economic affairs in North Dakota. First, the woman profiled — an immigrant from Ohio — commutes from Glenfield to Bismarck to work in a call center. That’s nuts. It’s at least 130 miles one way, and while it’s a beautiful drive most of the year, it’s also covered by drifting snow. Sure, she bought a house for $7,000 but still. If you’re working in a call center, rent an apartment five minutes from work. (How did the Post pick this woman?)
Call center work is indeed a common entry-level service job in the state, but it’s hardly the engine that’s driving the job demand in the state. That’s energy (and agriculture). Manufacturing has also been a major contributor to the economic growth, with some notable setbacks (Bobcat just announced layoffs).
Used to be the only story that the major media would do about North Dakota was the demographic one — the population is aging, young people are moving away, the Great Plains are returning to the prairie. Starting with the 1987 “Buffalo Commons” paper from the Rutgers pair, Frank and Deborah Popper, the media, social planners and some activists were enraptured with the story of the death of the Great Plains.
The Chicago Tribune’s Robert Kaplan almost made a career out of the storyline (or at least a book). And now North Dakota is booming? (As is Saskatchewan.)
It’s almost as if the marketplace is smarter than the social engineers — a valuable lesson for Congress this year as it contemplates restructuring the entire U.S. economy.
Correction: Frank Popper responds in the comments section and corrects a mistake, for which I thank him. I was thinking of The Chicago Tribune’s Jon Margolis, not Kaplan.
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