Better economy, brighter future in North Dakota

Farm Forum

CARRINGTON, N.D. (AP) – Robin Anderson recently went house shopping for a friend who wanted to get away from the bustle of the Oil Patch. Her search failed.

“The Carrington area is clearly growing,” she said. “There’s not housing in Carrington for people looking for it.”

Ten years ago, she worried about whether her two children would be able to stay in the area if they wanted to do so when they got older.

Now 40 years old, she and her husband, Glenn, have a third child, and the future looks brighter than Robin could have imagined a decade ago.

“If my kids want to stay in the area, I don’t have the same concerns I had 10 years ago,” she said. “The jobs are out there.”

A marketing director for Dakota Central Telecommunications, based in Carrington, Robin was one of the participants 10 years ago in the “Saving North Dakota” roundtable.

The participants, all young adults, offered a variety of prescriptions to improve the state’s economy and job opportunities.

One of Robin’s ideas: The state should do a better job of marketing its advanced telecommunications, with a fiber

-optic network she called “second to none.”

Dakota Central has installed fiber-optic lines to the homes and businesses it serves, replacing copper lines, to enable data and television services for customers.

That was part of a 10-year, $90 million initiative in partnership with neighboring Dickey Rural Networks that together established a fiber broadband network covering 10,000 square miles, billed as the largest in the nation when its completion was announced in April.

The project, which had support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development agency, was called a “game changer” for rural communities, with technology to help create jobs and open new markets.

Ten years ago, when many of the state’s residents worried about the economic future, Glenn worked part time as a crop adjuster and brand inspector to supplement his income as a cattle rancher.

Since then, he’s turned to crop adjusting full time, and keeps a few cattle and horses. The couple bought a house near Glenn’s family farm west of town.

The Andersons have a view, in fact, of the heightened economic activity – the truck traffic rumbling by. Now the local grain trucks mingle with the semis heading to and from the Oil Patch.

Carrington has always been a farming community and the seat of Foster County in east-central North Dakota, which has given it a degree of stability.

Also, since the 1990s, Carrington has been home to a pasta plant that, along with grain elevators, stands out on the horizon.

Because the city is located at the crossroads of Highways 281 and 200 – it’s on the way to and from the oil boom in western North Dakota.

Carrington long has been a destination place for meetings. A new hotel that opened last year already has plans to expand, and convenience stores are busy.

Traffic between Carrington and Jamestown, 42 miles to the south along Highway 281, is busy with commuters and other traffic. “We need a four-lane road there,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Farming, as it is elsewhere around North Dakota, is strong. Young people in the area who want to stay on the farm are able to do so, Anderson said.

As for the future, Anderson agrees that the state’s top priority is to provide public works and essential services, including public safety.

She’d like to see more support for expanding schools outside the Oil Patch; Carrington’s schools are dealing with an influx of students.

How much of North Dakota’s prosperity is simply the oil and gas boom enabled by technology, coupled with high farm commodity prices – and how much is attributable to state policies, workforce and other homegrown factors?

“I think we definitely have lucked out, but at the same time, North Dakotans in general are conservative,” Anderson said. “We’re not going to take a one-time windfall and not use it.”

It’s dizzying to think of how different the picture seemed a decade ago, a time of statewide handwringing about what seemed like a future of managing decline.

“I don’t think anyone could have guessed 10 years ago the economic opportunities that we have,” Anderson said. “It’s a good place to live.”