Bismarck, North Dakota, is kind of like my second hometown. I went to college there, my parents and brother live there, my sister lives there, my favorite friend lives there, I started my journalism career there and held several positions in the newsroom there.
So when Bismarck is in the news, I notice. And Bismarck has been in the news a lot over the past few years, most often for having the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. My home state of North Dakota, in fact, made the news often during the Great Recession, because it seemed immune to the economic travails being experienced nearly everywhere else. According to the New York Times, it is the only state that didn’t have a budget shortfall in the past four years.
Whenever I read about North Dakota’s huge cushion of cash, it brings back memories of sitting at a press conference in the state capitol about 10 years ago, listening to the Republicans warn that the state was headed for a huge budget deficit if it didn’t start cutting the budget and blah, blah, blah. They didn’t know then that the oil patch in western North Dakota was going to spring back to life in the already energy-rich state thanks to a lovely thing called the Bakken Formation — which stretches from Canada to my in-laws homeland in the Williston Basin to Montana and Wyoming. They’re saying this oil patch has 11 billion barrels of oil, which would make North Dakota the second-most prolific oil producing state.
Some believe there’s more oil in that thar shale than in Saudi Arabia.
My own hometown of Bowman, N.D., experienced an oil boom in the 1970s, and then an oil bust. But the oil rigs are back, and they’re drilling, baby. Unfortunately, I don’t own any land or mineral rights there.
The oil, and the fact that North Dakota — like Nebraska — never had a housing bubble, is the reason the recession seems to have skipped over the state.
So the news today that Lincoln’s jobless rate squeaked even lower than good ol’ Bismarck’s is incredibly good news indeed. One of my more critical readers asked why I didn’t write about that, and give Mayor Chris Beutler his due. I’m not sure Beutler has as much to do with the unemployment rate as the fact that Lincoln also has a stable housing market (no bubbles here) and is home to the state capitol and a major university, but, hey, who’s keeping track? Yay Lincoln!