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You’ll Never Guess One of America’s Boom States

  • Ted Landphair

There aren’t mountains or many tall structures to keep the wind from blowin’ down the flat North Dakota plains.

There aren’t mountains or many tall structures to keep the wind from blowin’ down the flat North Dakota plains.

It’s a place that a lot of people once could not wait to leave

During a spring of extraordinary flooding in America’s Northern Plains, the mostly flat, lightly populated state of North Dakota experienced 17 record river crests. This, after one blizzard after another dumped unprecedented snows onto the windswept state.

Windswept? One snowstorm’s 80-kpm winds snapped trees and blew so much snow around that stretches of hundreds of highways had to be closed.

Not a problem for these hardy folks. As one North Dakota Internet blogger reported, people calmly fired up their wood stoves, melted snow for water, threw on an extra layer of clothes, and sent out caravans to pluck people out of snowdrifts.

In these conditions, it’s not hard to see why thousands of people left North Dakota between the better farming days of the 1930s and 2010. Besides, folks there admit the place is a tad dull. After all, the official state beverage is milk.

Just another winter day in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Just another winter day in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

But guess what? Despite its rugged conditions and lack of big cities, major-league sports teams, and well-known cultural attractions, North Dakota’s population INCREASED by 5 percent in the first decade of this century.

How’s this possible in a place where North Dakotans joke that they have just two seasons: winter, and the short time in between to fix the roads?

A big oil boom in northwestern North Dakota, near the Canadian border, helps explain the growing population. The discovery of millions of barrels of oil has brought jobs and prosperity to towns like Williston, whose population is up 16 percent since 2000.

You literally never know what’s around the next bend on North Dakota’s “Enchanted Highway.” The art installations provide a welcome diversion in the drab western part of the state.

You literally never know what’s around the next bend on North Dakota’s “Enchanted Highway.” The art installations provide a welcome diversion in the drab western part of the state.

And to the east, the state’s largest city, Fargo, is thriving, too, thanks to a technology explosion at a regional Microsoft office and elsewhere, as well as a lively arts and nightclub scene that has kept a lot of young North Dakotans from departing for warmer climes.

There’s even more art out west for all to see, a collection of the world's largest metal sculptures along North Dakota’s “Enchanted Highway.” In some ways, the whole state is enchanted by its surprising prosperity these days.

Nobody would have guessed that, even a decade ago.

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