North Dakota’s forecast: Mostly sunny with lingering storms

Wayne Papke


Fifteen years ago, no one would have projected the rise of the North Dakota economy and the prominence it would gain within the American economy and as place for young adults to stay and make home.

The trip hasn’t provided perfect, sunny skies. We rode the rollercoaster of corn at $7 then $3, oil at $114 then $26, state budgets over $5 billion then under $4 billion, and crippling federal regulation on all our industries. While agriculture has not significantly recovered, as a whole we have navigated out of the downturn in energy and our state’s budget and live significantly better than fifteen years ago.

It is hard to think of the Bakken as largely unknown fifteen years ago, but in 2002, few viewed it with any, much less immense potential. However, a well drilled near Parshall in 2006 unleashed the formation, growing production more than 20 fold and created hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in North Dakota. In fact, the 160 new wells brought online in May of this year equate to more than $1 billion of investment in a solitary month. When OPEC pushed back, Bakken and Texas shale producers upped their games and changed the world oil markets. Hess, as an example, has improved its drilling productivity by 50 percent in only two years, and expects to grow production 10 percent per in this and future years.

After a tumultuous tenure of federal regulation, North Dakota’s coal industry holds promise for its 4,000 North Dakota workers and hundreds of thousands of electricity users. Its ability to provide stable, low cost power is critical to our electricity-reliant industries and homes.

As surprising as our jump into the world oil markets, we have jumped onto the technology stage as well with nine-figure and even billion-dollar acquisitions of North Dakota companies in Fargo and the development in Grand Forks of nation-leading unmanned aircraft systems facilities housing two of the largest makers of UAS in the world. The excitement of these developments has created a unique and successful entrepreneurial network in the state, evidenced by the 1,996 individuals who attended Fargo’s TedX in July.

Of course, the farm and ranch producers face a hard end to at least this year and possibly more. Hit with a double whammy of low prices and a drought causing low yields, the industries’ challenges will affect all our communities. Hopefully soaring wheat prices mitigate some of the challenges.

All-in-all, North Dakota has risen far above and away from the wheat-dependent economy of the past. Our population continues to grow and average younger. Recent news shows the state’s revenue recovering and, despite the downturn, the budget has grown 8 percent annually since 2005. North Dakota is no longer a state of consolidating school districts, low job growth, and outmigration. Though not grown without turbulence, the growth of the past decade gives us sunny skies in the forecast and much to appreciate.