Go West, Young Man!

Go West, that is, if you live East of the Dakotas. Quite a few years ago, I read that North Dakota had more millionaires per capita than any other state, the consequence of agriculture and oil. And that was before the Bakken Shale development, currently the largest construction project in the United States. Daniel Gross (via InstaPundit) cites chapter and verse on North Dakota’s boom: the unemployment rate is 3.2%; one quarter of all the oil drilling rigs in the United States are operating in North Dakota; in Williston, McDonald’s restaurants pay entry level workers $12.50 to $15 per hour; North Dakota’s economy has grown 7.1% in the past year; and the state can’t find enough workers to man the jobs it is creating.

It isn’t just oil, either. Agriculture is booming in North Dakota as it is throughout the Midwest. This is partly due to our government’s decision that it would be a good idea to burn our biggest cash crop, as a result of which Iowa is now a net importer of corn. But even without boneheaded federal intervention, agriculture would be doing very well.

(A historical digression: in this part of the country, hardly anyone is many generations removed from the farm. For nearly all of our history, enterprising and ambitious young men and women have left farms in search of greater opportunities in towns and cities. What no one could foresee, however, was what would happen to land values. Nowadays, one of the luckiest things that can happen to a young person in the Midwest is to have grandparents who stayed on the farm. Many people in this part of the world are inheriting millions of dollars from grandparents who were never considered wealthy, but who stayed in farming and accumulated land over their lifetimes. Sadly, my own ancestors got out of agriculture early.)

North Dakota has gotten most of the publicity, but South Dakota also enjoys enviable prosperity. Its unemployment rate was 4.8% in May, not as low as North Dakota’s but a heck of a lot better than the national rate of 9.1%. South Dakota doesn’t have any oil, but its business-friendly environment and superior work force attract jobs of all kinds. I spent last weekend in Sioux Falls, a booming city of over 150,000. Not only is the business climate terrific, it is also a good place to get sick. We spent some time at a local hospital (I was a visitor, not a patient) but were most impressed by the children’s hospital next door. Not only does it offer state of the art medicine, it is designed to look like a castle. This photo was taken in the afternoon; you should see what it looks like lit up at night!

The castle theme is maintained on the inside:

Sanford Children’s Hospital (along with the rest of the Sanford medical complex) exists in part as a result of a $450 million gift by South Dakotan Denny Sanford, the largest donation ever made to a medical facility.

There are good reasons why some states, like the Dakotas, prosper. They benefit from sound, conservative government and unabashedly business-friendly environments, and they are not bedeviled by unions. As poorly-governed states like California and New York become increasingly uncompetitive, their residents should look to states like North and South Dakota for clues as to how they might do better. That, or else simply move there.


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