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Published January 09 2011

Forum editorial: Oil boom not enough for ND jobs

North Dakota has achieved truly impressive economic growth over the past decade. The state’s growth topped the list, according to a ranking by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and recently was proclaimed the leading state in competitiveness by the Beacon Hill Institute. After years of lagging behind, North Dakota’s per-capita income now exceeds the national average.

The booming Oil Patch is a significant part, but by no means the only contributor, of North Dakota’s brightening economic picture – an island of growing prosperity in a nation still plagued by an anemic recovery from the recession.

But as Gov. Jack Dalrymple would be the first to concede, as he pointed out in his recent State of the State address, we have not reached our destination. The state has more work ahead to create a better economic future for its people. Despite the upbeat developments, North Dakota led the nation in the percentage of residents who work more than one job – 9.7 percent as of 2008, the most recent ranking available.

The need for a large portion of North Dakota residents to work more than one job is a sobering reminder of the continuing need to create more well-paying jobs and career opportunities, especially if the state is to keep its bright and motivated sons and daughters, too many of whom have been lost in the out-migration wave that plagued the state for years. Job Service North Dakota figures indicate 38,600 nonfarm jobs from 2000 to 2009. That’s good news, but the state’s population grew by 30,000 from 2000 to 2010, suggesting a good share of those new jobs were part time or paid modestly.

Dalrymple has offered some important strategies to improve North Dakota’s jobs climate. One is to refine the state’s Centers of Excellence program, including creation of what would be called the Research Center of Excellence, public-private partnerships similar to the research and technology park at North Dakota State University. To foster entrepreneurship, all state four-year campuses would operate business incubators to help get start-ups off the ground.

We don’t have to look far for tangible results of that strategy. A study found that 19 businesses in the NDSU Research & Technology Park employed 893 people last year, up from 511 four years earlier, with revenues this year projected at almost $173 million, up from almost $96 million in 2007. Examples of successful public-private commercial partnerships abound in the Red River Valley Research Corridor, an initiative started by former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

By continuing to support those investments, along with other efforts, including work-force development and promotion of exports, North Dakota will continue to develop and diversify its economy – and create better jobs that will help keep its best and brightest. We can’t get complacent and depend on oil and gas, finite resources that some day will run out.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.