North Dakota celebrates its 121st birthday today.

It's fitting that general election day 2010 is also Statehood Day.

In Clement Lounsberry's "North Dakota: History and People," published in 1917, he writes that the state entered the union with a bonded indebtedness of $539,807. The state had $57,513 in cash on hand, and assets that included a $200,000 capitol building, 600 Bismarck city lots and 3,049,465 acres of school lands. The debt was rung up by the territorial government over its 28-year existence. That debt also left a lasting legacy of frugality in the state.

Based on the 1890 census, one year after statehood, North Dakota had 190,983 residents. There are about 647,000 people living in the state today. The state's peak population was in about 1930 with more than 680,000 residents.

North Dakotans today, probably like those first-citizens, are more interested in the future than the past. The state's population after unceasing decline, has stabilized and expectations are that it will grow.

In 1889 the economy was all wheat and other small grains. Agriculture remains the No. 1 sector of the economy today, but tourism and energy are power economic machines operating in the state. The result in 2010 is North Dakota has a vibrant economy. While the state probably has some minor debt, what it does expect to have on June 30 is a $1 billion surplus.

Having the state well into the black while all our sister states are in the red has provided relief to North Dakotans in what has been, nationally, a tough time.

In the past decade or so, North Dakota has done a make over. The civic and business institutions, the Legislatures and the governors have, with the blessing of the voters, diversitied the state's economy and created a heightened entrepreneurial spirit. It's this that has so many North Dakotans thinking positively about the future.

The state has incrementally climbed rankings and lists of economic growth, potential and performance. Most recently, the state was ranked first among states in competitiveness by the Beacon Hill Institute, based on 43 indicators in security, infrastructure, human resources, technology, business incubation, openness and environmental policy. North Dakota achieved four top 10 rankings including first in infrastructure, which addresses factors such as commute times to work, monthly housing costs and electricity prices.

North Dakota is 121 years old and looking forward. It's people are optimistic about the prospects for themselves and their children. It's an earned optimism.

Happy birthday, North Dakota.

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