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State Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, column: Where the whole state is above average

By Kim Koppelman WEST FARGO, N.D. -- Have you noticed something different in the air, here in North Dakota? Our trademark, understated, "aw shucks" humility wouldn't dare call it pride, but people in North Dakota are holding their heads just a li...

By Kim Koppelman

WEST FARGO, N.D. -- Have you noticed something different in the air, here in North Dakota?

Our trademark, understated, "aw shucks" humility wouldn't dare call it pride, but people in North Dakota are holding their heads just a little higher these days, and with good reason. Our state, in many ways, has become the envy of the nation.

Everyone knows, here in the nation's breadbasket, that we do far more than our share to help feed the world. It's no surprise that our stable agricultural sector continues to be the economic backbone of our state.

Most also are aware of the oil boom in the western part of our state. Many know that we have a respectable, solid manufacturing sector as well.

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But only a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that North Dakota would rank very highly in the technology sector. Of course, Microsoft's major presence here and the spinoffs from it have helped spur this development, as has the growth of research and technology in the region.

Other mild surprises may lurk in our budding science sector, including pharmaceutical research, vaccine development and a focus on biotechnology.

North Dakota has a lot going for it. Our economy is increasingly diversified, wages are growing at a rate far outpacing other areas in the nation, and our state has the lowest unemployment rate in America.

Depending upon whose numbers you look at, North Dakota is one of two or three -- or the only -- state in the nation with a budget surplus.

Far from what North Dakota native and noted journalist Eric Sevareid once described as a "rectangular-shaped blank spot on the nation's consciousness," our state is being noticed.

Serving as chairman of the Council of State Governments, made up of all three branches of government in all 50 states, not only gave me insight into how we stack up against other states, it also revealed how much others are recognizing it.

Even now, as I speak with government and business leaders throughout the nation, it is obvious that North Dakota is making a name for itself.

"What are you doing differently up there?" is a common question.

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It offers a great opportunity to tell people around our nation about what makes North Dakota great. Of course, we can't take credit for the natural resources or fertile farmland the Good Lord gave us, but we can take stock in also doing a lot of things right and in knowing that we're home to some of the finest people anywhere.

Last year, taxes went down in North Dakota. This year, voters will have the chance to approve setting aside some of our now-abundant but never-certain oil revenue for future generations in a Legacy Fund rather than spending it all now.

Making good decisions not only has helped us achieve our current success, it also can pave the way for an even more exciting future.

In North Dakota, we don't like to brag about ourselves. That's just the way we are. But right now, we might be forgiven for taking stock in where we find ourselves -- not only as the envy of an economically struggling nation but as a positive example, as well.

Being relatively prosperous and stable in a nation that's floundering is bittersweet. We care about our neighbors and love our country. But right now, for one brief moment, North Dakotans might be justified in holding their heads just a bit higher.

Recognizing that this is a great place and that we're building a bright future is a good thing.

State Rep. Koppelman represents District 13 in the North Dakota House. He served as 2008 chairman of the Council of State Governments in Lexington, Ky.

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