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Taking care of business

Grand Forks ranked in the upper third of an annual report measuring the growth of local economies. The Grand Forks metropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Grand Forks and Polk counties, ranked 101 out of the nation's 335 largest metr...

Grand Forks ranked in the upper third of an annual report measuring the growth of local economies.

The Grand Forks metropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Grand Forks and Polk counties, ranked 101 out of the nation's 335 largest metro areas in Inc. magazine's annual listing of the Best Cities for Doing Business.

A year after jumping 79 spots from 118th in 2006 to 39th in 2007, Grand Forks fell 62 spots in the 2008 rankings.

Grand Forks ranked 56th among 173 smaller cities with population bases of 150,000 or less, after ranking 25th among small cities in 2007 and 78th in 2006.

"Last year, we had pretty remarkable growth (in the rankings)," said Delore Zimmerman, whose NewGeography.com Web site released the rankings Monday in conjunction with Inc. Zimmerman is also president of Grand Forks-based Praxis Strategy Group. "This year tapered off a bit. It's pretty hard to sustain that growth multiple years in a row.

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"For Grand Forks, in part, the growth was higher in pay than it was the year before. That is typical where you will have a big increase in jobs and then pay will go up next."

The rankings are based on job growth between November 1996 and January 2008, with more weight given to job growth in the past two years.

Employment in the Grand Forks metropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Grand Forks and Polk counties, dropped from 53,180 in November 1996 to 52,151 in January 2006, according to Job Service North Dakota. But between January 2006 and January 2008, the metro area's employment increased from 52,151 to 54,485.

Unlike many cities in the rankings, the Grand Forks metro area has a low unemployment rate of about 3 percent with many open jobs, limiting how fast employment can grow given slow population growth.

"Job growth is still steady in Grand Forks," said Klaus Thiessen, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. "We are just limited with the number of people available. Some local companies in the manufacturing sector are looking at expanding. That's a positive sign."

The Grand Forks metro area added 1,662 jobs between May 2007 and May 2008, to bring overall employment in Grand Forks and Polk counties to 55,749.

While the U.S. manufacturing sector has struggled in recent years, a story on NewGeography.com by executive editor Joel Kotkin said "Grand Forks and Fargo have experienced a quiet industrial boom, increasing their manufacturing jobs by more than 14 percent since 2000."

The story mentions that Danish wind turbine manufacturer LM Glasfiber has expanded its Grand Forks plant from 20 employees in 1999 to about 900 now.

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According to the story, local economic development officials credit LM Glasfiber's expansion with creating a tighter job market and helping to increase local wages.

"These are the best times we've seen in many decades," North Dakota State Economist Larry Leistritz told Kotkin. "And it is being felt broadly across the entire society."

Fargo ranked 46th overall in this year's Inc. rankings and 28th among small cities. Bismarck was 52nd overall and 30th among small cities.

Other nearby cities included: Sioux Falls, S.D. (51st overall, 29th small cities), St. Cloud, Minn. (86th overall, 48th small cities), Duluth (198th overall, 104th small cities) and Billings, Mont. (31st overall, 23rd small cities). Minneapolis, which has been hit hard by the housing market's fall and has seen recent waves of layoffs, was 236th overall.

Schuster covers business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to rschuster@gfherald.com . Read his business blog at www.areavoices.com/bizbuzz .

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