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Published May 23 2013

Forum editorial: Call it a sign of the times

Whatever spin one puts on the “North Dakota Open for Business” billboard in Moorhead, the reaction from some (certainly not all) residents of the city is immature and parochial.

First, the billboard reflects the unambiguous realities of North Dakota’s unprecedented economic success. That health is driven by agriculture, energy and, in no small way, public policy. It translates into a business climate that is among the best in the nation, if not the best.

For the record, the assessment of North Dakota’s business-friendly economy is being made again and again by independent out-of-state analysts. The latest is from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which ranks North Dakota second best in the nation according to economic growth. Minnesota ranks 46, just four from the bottom.

The council’s report was authored by economist Arthur Laffer, Wall Street Journal senior economic writer Stephen Moore and Jonathan Williams, the center’s director for state fiscal reform. Its conclusions are not from North Dakotans patting themselves on the back. But this latest report confirms and expands similar findings of other independent analysts.

Whether the Greater North Dakota Chamber was being a good neighbor by erecting the Moorhead billboard (one of several in Minnesota) is a fair debate. Frankly, it might have been smarter – and less in-your-face – to put the billboard up on the North Dakota side of the Red River. But the truth inherent in the message, as based on sound economic comparisons, is not open to serious debate.

When elected officials in Moorhead whine and gnash their teeth about the billboard, it’s more a reflection of the differences in retail, residential, business and other growth between Fargo and Moorhead. It’s more a symptom of the frustration a border city deals with because of tax and regulatory policies made in St. Paul.

The situation is so difficult for Moorhead that at least a couple of City Council members work in Fargo (where the jobs are). Another one’s business is located in Fargo. It’s such an entrenched mindset that Moorhead has been trying without success to conduct a study to learn why restaurants locate in Fargo rather than Moorhead; and have to deal with the peculiar reluctance of Moorhead restaurant owners to participate.

Indignant rants about the billboard constitute a shallow, puerile response to Moorhead’s inability to keep up with its neighbor to the west. The culprit is not a billboard. It’s the Legislature, where year after year, session after session, lawmakers and governors adopt laws and policies that are guaranteed to stifle job growth and business investment. They did it again this year.

So the billboard’s message, while offensive to some, is accurate by every independent measurement. North Dakota is “open for business,” and, by inference, Minnesota is not.

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