RALPH KINGSBURY: GF is at equilibrium -- not too hot, and not too cold
In my columns, I've explained many times the difference in the economies around North Dakota. I've written about the dramatic growth of North Dakota cities such as Minot, Williston and Dickinson, as well as the Oil Patch in general and provided s...
In my columns, I've explained many times the difference in the economies around North Dakota. I've written about the dramatic growth of North Dakota cities such as Minot, Williston and Dickinson, as well as the Oil Patch in general and provided statistics that showed and explained that growth. I have also explained what the statistics meant to growth in Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks.
Even though Bismarck is not in oil country, the fact that it is the capital means it gained from the unforeseen and unplanned explosion in energy spending. It also gained from the dramatic increase in North Dakota state spending. In the past decade, general fund spending increased by 125 percent -- and then there is the increase in North Dakota's special funds and all the federal money given to the state.
More than any other place in North Dakota, Bismarck gained from those increases.
Until the Oil Patch spending boomed, Fargo was leaving the rest of us in the dust. How come?
In simple economic terms, it was their time. As that old economic theorem says: location, location, location.
Every major rail line in, across and through North Dakota comes from or goes to Fargo. The only two interstate highways in the state cross at Fargo. And before the U.S. and world economy let out one big hiccup, it was the next logical suburb out from the Twin Cities. After all, if you were a corporate type changing planes in Chicago or even flying directly in to Minneapolis, would you rather spend an hour and a half to driving to St. Cloud or half that time flying on to Fargo, where you could be at your warehouse or assembly plant in 10 minutes?
And if you were a North Dakota shopper who didn't want to drive to the Twin Cities, would you rather enjoy what Fargo had to offer or one of the other North Dakota malls? Grand Forks' only advantage is in intercepting Canadians as well as North Dakota and Minnesota residents living north of here.
As to the specifics of why the growth in Grand Forks has been slower than in the boomtowns, including smaller towns such as Stanley, it is because three things have happened that have restricted growth here.
First, the dramatic reduction in the number of people -- both military and civilian and their dependents -- assigned to Grand Forks Air Force Base. Because of the restricted access, we don't see those changes, but they have been huge.
Second, the dramatic change in agricultural technology over the past decade has meant fewer farms and farm employees.
Third, Grand Forks' inability to attract a large industrial firm or more retail stores also has limited growth. Does that mean somebody hasn't done their job? Just ask Bismarck. They have a multimillion-dollar transportation hub for sale. It was going to be the Bobcat shipping point to the world. Today, it is for sale after public dollars were spent building it.
So, the answer to the question about growth is that the economy of Grand Forks is in equilibrium. Not too long ago, I said that if I had some money to invest, I would be just as willing to put it in Grand Forks as any other town in North Dakota. I will still stand by that today.
That doesn't mean any amount of money in any business. It means a wise and sound investment.
For instance, the recent study completed by the city and the Chamber of Commerce proves what many of us have thought all along, which is that is there are some real retail opportunities here, especially because of our Canadian neighbors and also because of some good times in agriculture.
We also have the talented work force for a manufacturing business. We only need to find one that needs to make the move.
And remember, besides agriculture we also have that other economic engine, the university. Changing times make growth tied to UND more difficult than in the past; but by working together and especially making the most of all of the aviation and energy opportunities, we can continue those past successes.
Now, if only someone could find oil in the Red River Valley.
By the way, the large increase in building permits in this week's data is because of the new theater and remodeling being done at Red River High School. There also is a 130 percent increase in the commercial remodeling category.
Reach Kingsbury at email@example.com .