Program Note: Tune in to hear Gary Tuchman's full report tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
Gary Tuchman | BIO
What ever happened to the days of low unemployment, a decent housing market, budget surpluses; a robust economy? Those days are still here! But likely not where you are. They are where I am right now. Fargo, North Dakota.
The currently frozen city of 98,000 people where the temperature is zero fahrenheit as I write this, has an unemployment rate not much higher than that.
In a nation where 7.6 percent of people are out jobs, Fargo is at 3.4 percent, a rate which is recognized by most economists as "full employment."
Realtors expect continuing increases in housing sales; the North Dakota state budget has a one billion dollar surplus. Say the word recession to Fargoans, and you might hear them say, "What recession?"
Fargo is part of a region that is doing relatively well economically right now. Parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah are escaping much of the economic wrath of the great majority of the rest of the nation.
But Fargo seems to be one of the brightest spots of all. We went to this city made famous by the dark comedy of the same name to find out why. North Dakota has oil and that has helped greatly, but so do other parts of the country. What many business people in North Dakota think makes them different is what they call "their upper midwest Scandavian sensibilities."
Many of the immigrants who immigrated to North Dakota generations ago from Norway, Finland, and Sweden came here with a sense of financial practicality and conservatism. It lives on. For many years, bankers in Fargo have been very conservative about loans and mortgages.
One of the largest banks in North Dakota, Gate City Bank, tells us it only had a handful of foreclosures this year. The CEO of the bank says 2008 may have been the best year ever for his institution. They brag they will not accept a penny of TARP funds, and celebrate their good fortune by giving out homemade cookies in the 28 branches around the state.
We talk to one of the bosses of a high-tech firm who says he needs to expand his employee list by 50 percent because he can't keep up with all the business. We talk to an ironworker who says there is so much work he doesn't have to worry about jobs. We go to a curling rink (curling is a big sport in North Dakota) and hear from the curlers that they feel the economy is pretty good.
Now, we must point out Fargo is not nirvana. The low unemployment rate has inched up, some businesses say they are seeing slight decreases in revenue, so there is concern the rest of the nation's problems could catch up to them. But everyone we talk to here recognizes they are fortunate. The recession is issue number one in this great nation. But in Fargo, it's currently viewed as an out of town story.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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