Help Wanted in North Dakota

By Beacon Staff

My first reporting gig after graduating from the University of Montana was covering the North Dakota Legislature for the Associated Press. I had lived in both Montana (obviously) and Wyoming before moving to the eastern tundra, but I was still ill-prepared for the North Dakota winter. The wind chill was so cutting that while running from my car to the Capitol, if I forgot my stocking cap, my ears would swell. Seriously.

So, this story caught my eye. Partially, because the reporter interviewed lawmakers I briefly covered, but more so because North Dakota is still struggling, despite the recession, with the same problem it’s always had: No one wants to live there and it’s not due to lack of jobs. Monica Davey’s lead:

FARGO, N.D. — As the rest of the nation sinks into a 12th grim month of recession, this state, at least up until now, has been quietly reveling in a picture so different that it might well be on another planet.

She points out that cars are selling, unemployment is low (3.4 percent) and home prices haven’t plummeted. Increased oil production and a strong farming yields have helped, but Davey also attributes it to the North Dakota I remember: “A conservative, steady, never-fancy culture that has nurtured fewer sudden booms of wealth like those seen elsewhere and also fewer tumultuous slumps.”

Yet the state’s worrying about filling the some 13,000 unfilled jobs. And lawmakers there still haven’t been able to find a way to attract people to a state that has actually lost population in recent years.

Katie Hasbargen, a spokeswoman for Microsoft in Fargo, pointed out one reason for the state’s stigma:

“The movie,” Ms. Hasbargen said, referring to the 1996 Coen brothers’ film that bears this city’s name, “didn’t do us a lot of favors.”