Explaining what North Dakota is to people who do not live here has become more and more difficult. A recent Sunday Tribune story addressed the mingling of nuclear missile silos with oil rigs and wells in the western half of the state. Another story talked about the top-to-bottom maintenance of the nation’s only coal gasification plant.
Construction of the first refinery to be built in the United States in the last several decades will begin in Dickinson this spring. A recent report from the federal Agriculture Department put the value of crops produced in the state at $11 billion last year.
North Dakota’s economic model has changed — for the better.
By a combination of intention, hard work and luck, the state has diversified its economic profile.
For much of North Dakota’s history, dry-land wheat farming defined the state. It fed a dependency on the railroad, a cyclic wheat market, weather and the federal government. It finely honed the conservative political and economic thinking of many of the state’s citizens.
Farming remains key to the state’s well-being. It represents the largest slice in the state economic pie. And although wheat remains key to farm operations, the state has become a bonanza of specialty crops well beyond sugar beets, corn and other small grains. It ships cattle to Kazakhstan, a former Soviet Union member state.
Value-added agriculture has become a part of the state’s economic vocabulary.
“We’re doing a better job at farming now than we every did before in history,” Dan Wogsland, executive director of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association, told the Tribune.
Oil and gas represent a big piece of the pie. Production taxes make up an estimated 20 percent of the state government revenue.
In those lean years, Bismarck-Mandan’s economy grew by 1 or 2 percent,. Now it’s picked up the pace, hitting as much as 3 percent annually, according to Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce President Kelvin Hullet.
It has been a long climb to this high point.
Through the terms of four governors — George Sinner, Ed Schafer, John Hoeven and, now Jack Dalrymple — the state has pushed and pulled at policies supporting growth, entreprenuership, research, economic development and jobs creation.
It has been a sometimes frustrating, hit-and-miss strategy; however, the people of North Dakota have kept working to stem the flow of outward-bound young people by creating jobs and new business and industry.
It’s an effort that justified the headline on the Tribune’s Sunday Money story: “North Dakota is strong.”