Oil and agriculture change ND fortunes

FARGO, N.D. — The oil boom and high agricultural prices have changed North Dakota’s fortunes in the past decade.

In the 1990s, North Dakota was losing many of its young people and the population was stagnating, the Forum newspaper reports. During that decade, the state lost more than 24,000 people aged 20 to 34 as they left for jobs in other places.

The turnaround since then has been dramatic, thanks in large part to a soaring farm commodity prices and oil and gas production, the newspaper reported.

The state’s population increased 6.6 percent between the 2000 census and the estimate for 2011 as people moved to North Dakota for jobs. The state’s per-capita income also jumped from $25,592 in 2000 to $47,236 in 2011, an 86.4 percent increase.

Jill Wilkey, who directs the North Dakota State University Career Center, said she no longer has to endure the tedious wisecracks that were once routine at conferences for college placement centers.

“They’re not laughing at us anymore,” Wilkey said. “They’re not asking us if we ride horses to work. They’re asking about the oil fields.”

Richard Rathge, a demographer at North Dakota State University, said the big changes became noticeable in 2006. The so-called brain drain the state once suffered from losing its educated young people has been reversed, he said.

The number of nonfarm jobs in North Dakota grew 27.6 percent from 2002 to 2012. The 428,100 jobs last year represented a gain of 92,600 for the decade.

North Dakota’s net migration was a gain of 32,216 in 2010 and 30,100 in 2011.

Although wages have risen statewide, the most dramatic increases tend to be concentrated. Much of the new wealth flows from 17 oil and gas producing counties in western North Dakota, particularly in nine counties in the booming Bakken Formation.

Rathge notes that many North Dakota counties continue to lose population because most gains have come in the oifield counties.