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North Dakota economy: Not just oil

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North Dakota economy: Not just oil
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GRAND FORKS -- North Dakota took the top ranking in a recently released study of economic performance, showing strength in technology fields in the east as well as energy jobs in the west.

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The Enterprising States report, prepared yearly since 2010 by North Dakota-based Praxis Strategy group, breaks down each state's economic performance into five categories: exports, business climate, talent pipeline, infrastructure, and innovation and entrepreneurship. Each category is further divided into subsections.

"The study looks at job creation policy on a state-by-state basis and 10-year growth in each state in a number of different areas," said Mark Schill, vice president of research for Praxis. "North Dakota typically places near the top."

The state had top rankings in long-term and short-term job growth, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) job growth, per capita income growth and gross state product growth. Much of this growth is taking place outside the oil boom, in larger cities such as Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck.

"The metropolitan areas have actually been doing well the last 10 years or so," Schill said. "STEM job growth in the Red River Valley is well ahead of the nation."

He identified key factors like a strong university presence, agricultural growth and proximity to Canada as drivers of the North Dakota urban economy.

Education rankings

Higher education was also marked as a strong point for North Dakota, which placed second in college affordability and third in educational attainment, which measures those between ages 25 and 44 with some sort of college degree.

The state did receive lower marks in other education sections. North Dakota finished 48th in high school Advanced Placement test scores and 34th in higher education efficiency. Schill said this measure meant students at North Dakota colleges take longer to get their degrees.

"I'm not sure if AP testing isn't prevalent in North Dakota or if rural schools have a hard time supporting it," he said. "I would say if you look at measures that track the number of students that go to college in North Dakota, it's fairly high. Also, North Dakota is in the top 15 of net college importers. There are a lot of college students in the state, so we end up with a high share of college-educated people in the state."

The different categories in the study help illustrate the diversity of state economies, Schill said.

"Each state has its own DNA, its own demographics and key industries," he said. "Of course, there is oil in western North Dakota, but eastern North Dakota is very diverse."

Minnesota's strengths lay in the talent pipeline and infrastructure categories. The state took sixth in both categories. The report cited the state government's focus on developing infrastructure as a key driver of the economy.

"Minnesota is tough because the Twin Cities area colors the numbers so much," Schill said. "But in northwest Minnesota, there are some real world-class manufacturing companies that drive the economies, and Minnesota has always been known for its education workforce. They prepare kids well for college."

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