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Published November 20 2010

Trade Talk: Fargo earns No. 1 ranking from economic policy center

When it comes to picking out the best places in the nation to do business these days, everybody loves North Dakota.

Four weeks ago, the state was named the most economically competitive in the country in a study out of the Beacon Hill Institute at Boston’s Suffolk University. Now, another study – this one from the Milken Institute, a California-based economic policy center – tabs Fargo as the best-performing small city in America (with Bismarck as No. 2, no less).

The Milken report was high on the Fargo metro area (including Moorhead) for a number of reasons – strong job and salary growth, a diverse economy, and a growing tech sector bolstered by the region’s colleges and universities. It also didn’t hurt that the area is relatively light on financial services companies, which were hammered by the economic downturn that began in late 2008.

Tax incentives to spur business development were cited as a factor that helped push both Fargo (No. 10 in last year’s rankings) and Bismarck (No. 7) to the top. The report suggested tight labor markets elsewhere brought new workers to North Dakota, which has a nation-leading unemployment rate of about 3 percent. To put that in context, many economists figure the “natural” unemployment rate, caused by churn and evolving job needs, is somewhere between 5 and 6 percent.

No single study is going to vault Fargo to the forefront of the national business consciousness, of course. But after a while, the favorable mentions – and favorable business climate that garners those mentions – become difficult to ignore. Everybody loves a winner (and a low tax rate, for that matter). Whenever someone tallies up the economic scorecard right now, they can’t help but notice North Dakota’s winning.

Wanted: Black Friday shopping veterans

Do you spend more time with the newspaper ads on Thanksgiving than you do with the turkey? Do you live for the taste of early morning air outside of Walmart and the thrill of chasing down absurdly cheap merchandise on Black Friday? If so, I want to hear from you.

I’m not brave enough to venture into the retail chaos that transpires on the highest of holy days in American shopping (I tried it once a few years ago, and I’m still looking for a parking spot). I don’t have the willpower to set the alarm for 3 a.m. to get my hands on that $50 flat-screen television. But I’m looking for a window into the intrepid souls of those of you who are.

If you’re a hardcore Black Friday enthusiast and don’t mind giving away a few trade secrets, drop me a line or give me a call.

You can also connect with Trade Talk online at www.tradetalk.areavoices.com

Readers can reach Forum business reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502