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Dave Olson, Published February 21 2013

Fed official: ND economy looks bright, nation's future less certain

FARGO – The future continues to look bright for the economies of North Dakota and the Fargo-Moorhead area, but issues such as attracting and retaining qualified employees could grow.

That was the assessment offered Thursday by speakers participating in the 2013 Economic Outlook Forum in Fargo and sponsored by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.

While North Dakota avoided the worst of the recession, the recovery for the rest of the country has been slow and there are few signs that will change in the next year or two, said keynote speaker Terry Fitzgerald, senior economist and vice president for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

He said national unemployment is down to 7.9 percent from its high of about 10 percent, but that rate is still devastating for a lot of workers.

He cited reasons why the economy has been slow to turn around, including:

• Low demand for products and an increase in how much consumers are saving rather than spending.

• Poor credit scores are preventing some consumers from taking advantage of low interest rates.

• Small businesses are having difficulty accessing credit.

Fitzgerald said long-term solutions include reforming the nation’s education system, tax code and health care.

Dan Staller, Fargo market president for Starion Financial, discussed the results of a business outlook survey sent to about 1,800 chamber members.

Roughly 13 percent responded, many of them small- to mid-sized businesses, Staller said. Seventy-five percent of respondents said their business was up in 2012 and about 80 percent indicated they believe their business will get better in 2013.

“We anticipate revenues are going to increase, profitability is going to increase, compensation of employees is going to increase,” Staller said, adding that 42 percent of respondents said they will have more employees in 2013 than they did in 2012.

Jim Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., said economic indicators “bode very, very well” for the local economy in 2013.

He added, however, there are several areas of concern, including whether area businesses will be able to find qualified workers in the future.

Gartin said another issue is the flood diversion proposed for the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Calling the project critical for the area’s long-term economic well-being, Gartin called on audience members to contact lawmakers “to make sure this gets approved.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555