The unemployment rate in North Dakota is 3.7 percent, and “if it wasn’t for cable news, we probably wouldn’t have any idea that the rest of the country was any different,” said Doug Johnson, co-owner of crop insurer TCI Insurance in West Fargo, who added six new employees this year.
As businesses across the U.S. struggle to recover from the deepest recession since World War II and the national jobless rate remains stuck at 9.6 percent, Johnson has benefited from his location in the northern Great Plains, where a boom in commodities, such as wheat and soybeans, is helping to create jobs, lift farmers’ incomes and fuel demand for goods ranging from Deere & Co. tractors and Agco Corp. combines to dinners at local restaurants.
The agricultural Midwest -- particularly North and South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska -- has been leading the U.S. economic recovery as its banks, businesses and households avoided the worst of the housing bubble’s collapse and the financial crisis that followed. Now the region is getting a further boost from record exports of commodities, driven by demand in China and Russia and a declining dollar. U.S. farm shipments next year may surpass the 2008 record of $115.3 billion, Joe Glauber, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief economist, said last month.
“This has been the brightest spot in the U.S. economy throughout the recession, the only part of the country that has held up reasonably well,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
This is a very interesting development -- and something I'll be looking into more over the next few weeks.