February 25th, 2009
11:48 PM ET

What recession?

Program Note: Tune in to hear Gary Tuchman's full report tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Gary Tuchman learns about curling and the economy in Fargo, North Dakota.

Gary Tuchman learns about curling and the economy in Fargo, North Dakota.
Gary Tuchman tests out his curling skills in Fargo, North Dakota.

Gary Tuchman tests out his curling skills in Fargo, North Dakota.

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

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.

Filed under: Economy • Gary Tuchman • Unemployment
soundoff (107 Responses)
  1. John Mehlhoff

    I live in Fargo's sister city, Moorhead. Fargo is in North Dakota. ND has oil. ND has a very homogenius population of less than 700,000. I was born there. It's a great state but no secret to it's success. It's isolated, has lots of room, the State has a budget surplus. North Dakota still makes things, like food. Cheers to Fargo!

    February 25, 2009 at 9:17 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    Nice to hear that Fargo is doing well. Gives me hope that perhaps the rest of us will see an end to this recession soon. That would be quite a relief!

    February 25, 2009 at 9:11 pm |
  3. Marty

    How do we handle long winters? Fargo has direct flights to LAX and Las Vegas

    February 25, 2009 at 9:05 pm |
  4. Dave - Fargo

    I was born and raised in Fargo and still live here today. Interesting points. Boring drives – yes, but try the path less taken and you'll see plenty. Lack of diversity – maybe, but hard to compete with NYC there. Winters can be brutal at times, but it helps keep the crime low. (who wants to lift a car at -20 F when you can't let it run 15 minutes to warm up). The people here are resilient and can't wait to hold a door open for you. Everyone here also seems to try to support the local companies more. Whatever it is I guess it's working. Hope you all have the same good fortune soon!

    February 25, 2009 at 8:44 pm |
  5. Linda J (ND girl)

    I agree that driving through North Dakota looks like "a whole lot of nothing," but what you are looking at is the best farmland in the world. There are millions of dollars in the ground you're looking at – so don't scoff at it too much!

    February 25, 2009 at 8:08 pm |
  6. Doreen

    Hello to all of those who do not know North Dakota! To the women who drove the 100 miles of "nothingness"..... you actually missed the most beautiful parts of the state, west and north of Bismarck! Some of the most gorgeous scenery you will see in this country..... and I have travels through 45 states. Also, the movie Fargo... is a movie that the storyline actually took place in the state of Minnesota. Please watch the movie again and you will see that the first scene was the only part of the movie that actually took place in "Fargo".... and no, we don't have that type of accent around here. Movies are often nonfactual... nor based on truths... All I can say is; we have great people in this state who watch out for their neighbors, low crime, fabulous clear skies, (the evenings are awesome and I doubt that you will ever see the sky filled with so many stars)... the air is clean, low stress and a quiet calm you will not find anywhere else....and a history that is second to none.,l So come and see for yourself... live the Legend of North Dakota

    February 25, 2009 at 8:00 pm |
  7. John Nickle

    Is there anyone out there that can explain why we havn't heard anything connecting Alan Greenspan to the US's economic and banking meltdown. Wasn't he the head of the US Banking Industry for quite some time? Am I the only one that can see that his policies are why the US is in this turmoil? Everyone seems to agree that this meltdown originated in the housing market. Why would a central bank raise interest rates so drastically high and quickly without realizing all these "floating" mortgages would be severely impacted and stretch people's budgets past their limits.

    February 25, 2009 at 7:53 pm |
  8. Annie Kate

    Good for Fargo. Glad to know there are still places in the US that are not mired in this recession and life goes on as normal. Gary, you may have inadvertently set them up for a population hike – if I was long unemployed and didn't mind the cold I'd think about going there to see if I could get a job and what it was like to live there – at least until the recession is over and if I liked it maybe beyond. Thanks for an upbeat story!!!

    February 25, 2009 at 7:39 pm |
  9. Monte

    After watching tonites news such as the mess with FEMA on Katrina, and the Bank Ceos doing business that they shouldn't, plus politicans still having ear marks that add up to billions. Its my opinon that we should consider having check and balance on our high up people in offices across the country that administer benefits to help people of Katrina, unemployment, food stamps, and other goverment services. No wonder the country is in such a mess. some of the very people we put in goverment are the crooked ones, no to mention the ones that get hired by officials to do the handing out of benefits. We must hold all goverment employees accountable right down to the field reps.

    February 25, 2009 at 7:15 pm |
  10. paula

    I think Fargo is getting a lot of credit for the good economy in ND...but it is the towns in the western part of the state like Williston, Dickinson, Watford City, Tioga, Stanley...that are keeping the states unemployement numbers low. Williston (williams county) has an unemployement rate of 1.5%...jobs are abundant, construction is going strong with new homes, townhouses, 3 new hotels, numerous oil companies opening up service shops and offices, etc... because of the oil activity taking place. Yes, Fargo is the largest town in ND, but for the most part, the good economy is as is because of western ND's booming oil industry (even with the lull in the prices)...but the boom continues on.

    February 25, 2009 at 6:55 pm |
  11. Shannon in ND

    While I wouldn't call Fargo the mecca of diversity, it does hold, per capita, one of the largest cities of refugees, from Bosnia to Somolia, from the Sudanese to the Cambodians, and there is a strong Latino presence in the area. Students, facult, and staff at the three major higher ed institutions add to the community. It boasts one of the premeire performing arts schools for K-12, includes independent, community, and college theater performance, as well as symphonies, operas, and various forms of dance. Yet conservative is a good word. If we have the money, we spend some of it, but save the rest for rainy days. If we don't have the money, we don't buy something we can't afford. Many families own not only their own homes in Fargo, but they also own second homes on lakes in Minnesota, such as we do. Oh, and did I mention that I am getting a minimum 5% raise next year?

    Plus, for half a year, we don't have to deal with mosquitoes!!!

    February 25, 2009 at 6:55 pm |
  12. deece

    mike in NYC – come check out fargo! i think you may be pleasantly surprised with its restaurant selection. if you have an aversion to our frigid winters, come during our other season, "road construction." 🙂

    February 25, 2009 at 6:37 pm |
  13. Joe

    I can tell you one thing. North Dakota did not get to where we are now by massive spending by someone who is inexperienced. We got here by hard work and being conservative. Maybe we should outsource Washington and get some hard working honest people there who know how real success is reached. It's defiantly not from free handouts. You teach a man how to fish he can feed himself. You give him the fish for free and he will be a lazy beggar.

    February 25, 2009 at 6:35 pm |
  14. Jo Ann


    Leave it to you to bring us an uplifting story about the economy!

    These people have good reason to brag about what they have accomplished, they sound like proud people with strong values who would be ashamed to take any help from the government.

    Unfortunately, the rest of the country cannot boast any such success and it is possible that its failures will spill over into this robust part of the country.

    Maybe Treasury Secretary Geithner should get some advice from the CEO of the Gate City Bank, he looks like he could use some help.

    I look forward to watching your report tonight!

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    February 25, 2009 at 6:32 pm |
  15. Rikki, Fargo, ND

    I'm so excited to see the story tonight...not just because I'm from Fargo but because I also work at Gate City! It was so great to see you at the bank, Gary! We really are doing well here! We are more that just flatlands and cold! Looking forward to your report tonight!

    February 25, 2009 at 6:19 pm |
  16. Jeff

    Fargo has great diversity. There are peoples of every color and creed here. Africans, Filipinos, Chinese, Black and White Americans, Bosnians and who knows who else? There are many good ethnic restaurants too Thai, Chinese, Greek, Japanese. There is a Bosnian Deli just down the street. I say nay to anyone who claims we have no culture.

    February 25, 2009 at 6:14 pm |
  17. Kris

    As a Fargoan and native North Dakotan, I will admit that a good chunk of Jodi Rae's "conservatism, God-fearing, work-ethic abiding" is part of our success, but it's not the whole story. Agriculture is the strong backbone of a diversified economy that also includes jobs in manufacturing, high-tech and regional healthcare. Fargoans are also creative entrepreneurs that have revitalized a vibrant downtown with plenty of local flavor. We have a bona fide arts scene, thanks in large part to the three universities in the metro area. And it's not just Fargo – there's Moorhead and West Fargo, too. Fargo is a lot of things, which is probably why we're doing as well as we are.

    February 25, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  18. Jeff

    For 8 years the left whined, name-called, kicked, scratched and did everything but get along or try to help, now that they're in power, everyone should fall in line or they look bad? Puh-lease! I live in Fargo, and what is being said is true. The stores are filled with shoppers, gas prices are low, jobs are plentiful. Not to say there haven't been changes! Where I work our leading product is way down, but since we are diversified, other products, like agricultural products are making up. This is a correction mostly caused by the same people clamoring for help. Banks that practiced poor lending habits and people who borrowed more than they can afford. Now, we should all get together and bail them all out? Zero fiscal responsibility.

    February 25, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  19. Heather

    It's called "balance"...the Upper Midwest rarely reaches the "lowest of the lows" because we rarely get caught in the momentum that takes people to the "highest of the highs". You're not going to see housing prices ever rise 300% a year (heck, in a century!) in the Dakotas, nor will you ever see a similar drop. Call it climate, call it heritage, call it plain old common sense...but "ya, sure, you betcha" we are happy to play the part of the tortise with our slow and steady growth winning the race!

    February 25, 2009 at 6:08 pm |
  20. Edward

    It looks like some radar might be supporting legalizing of marijuanna.I would like to see some interviews on your show and Larry King regarding the issues. Some polling would be great too! It's a new world, legalizing marijuanna would help the united states. Think of the money it would save and generate to our econmy. I don't even care if it taxed and regulated......

    February 25, 2009 at 5:48 pm |
  21. jacques s.clermont

    As you all know, the republicain are to blame for the economic problem the Obama inherited. Bush took the country from Clinton with surplus and well to do economicaly. Also the war in iraq was a decision for the republican people to get rich as they did with no bid contract. Obama to solve part of the problem, should stop the billions tax payer money united states send every years to Israel if it is true, also money send to Saudi Arabia and all other country who does not really in need, but use their power to sqeeze others. Apartheid is no more is south africa but it still exist in west bank and gaza see chanel 13 news for the reporter who spent 10 years overthere.. I hope president Obama has the strenght and see the suffering of people around the world by others who benefit from the taxpayer of U.S.A. I wish you put my comment on television... thanks

    February 25, 2009 at 5:27 pm |
  22. Rod

    (Emerson Electric Co. in Tempe) Emerson Leading $24.8B Global Manufacturing and Technology Company, Is it Patriotic to the USA? they are doing more outsourcing of US jobs to the Phillippines!
    It's real sad when this is the problem with this economy! Yep more profits $$ for BIG Business! & one more CEO!

    February 25, 2009 at 5:22 pm |
  23. Tarja, Finland

    So we Scandinavians are considered sensible, practical and conservative when we deal with financial matters, hmmmm?
    On my part I can agree on that. And for Finlands part, too.

    February 25, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  24. Shannon- North Dakota

    As a North Dakota resedent who is well traveled, I could never imagine living anywhere esle. Yes, the winters are a bit chilly, but our summers here are beautiful! I believe North Dakota offers just as much if not more than other states.

    February 25, 2009 at 5:15 pm |
  25. Abel Tsegga

    The Borgen Project has some good info on the cost of addressing global poverty.

    $30 billion: Annual shortfall to end world hunger.
    $550 billion: U.S. Defense budget

    February 25, 2009 at 5:09 pm |
  26. Cameron North

    Purchase Stimulus Plan

    I want to offer my solution to rev up the economy. I propose the federal government distribute $1000 worth of 50% discount coupons to every person in the USA that is registered with the IRS as per the following:

    1) 1x$300, 2x$200, 2x$100 and 2x$50
    2) Coupons valid for use between April 1 to June 30 only.
    3) The federal government redeems up to 50% of the purchase price to the vendor upon redeeming the voucher to the federal agency.
    4) Voucher is good for purchasing any product.

    This idea would push the consumer to make a lot of purchases in a short period of time. The money spent by the consumer with the added money added by the goverment would cause sales and profits to increase substantially. Thus revving things up and helping the economy to progress.

    Do you think this is a good idea?


    February 25, 2009 at 5:07 pm |
  27. Mike in NYC

    I'm envious of country people. (A regrettable catch-all term, I realize. My apologies.) Their self-reliance and discipline has served them well. City life isn’t anything like it’s cracked up to be. At least not here in the Big Apple.

    These places might have brutal winters, and they may lack ethnic restaurants, but their balance sheets - economic and otherwise - seem to be in good shape.

    I'm just waiting for liberals to start ragging on the Dakotas for their lack of "diversity."

    February 25, 2009 at 4:46 pm |
  28. Pia

    I know that change is coming and it may not be as swift and just as we would like but many of we understood this premise coming into this new administration. It will be a long road to recovery and there will be many casualties but I am optimistic. However,I have friend in D.C. who lost his car earlier this week and has a Home forclosure sale date for TOMORROW! He has been working for more than 30 years and had to change jobs 4 times in the last year due to wage cuts at his original job

    February 25, 2009 at 4:40 pm |
  29. Sydney

    Since we all do not live in Fargo we must deal with the fallout of the Bush administration! But, I am glad to know that somewhere in the United States people are still doing well. Hopefully Fargo can show the rest of the country a way out of our horrific economy.

    February 25, 2009 at 4:35 pm |
  30. Carrie Speer

    I am a Realtor in Fargo and a transplant from Illinois 5 years ago. I have personally witnessed the modest lifestyle that the average Fargoan chooses to lead. I have found people in North Dakota to be some of the friendliest and most humble people in the USA. They take great pride in their families and work ethic. You will never find better customer service anywhere else. As a Realtor I am reaping the benefits of the conservative background that helps shelter this great state from the crisis faced in many other areas of the country. Any problems faced in North Dakota are caused by a ripple effect stemming from other areas.
    Cold winters are a small price to pay to be surrounded by good people.

    February 25, 2009 at 4:35 pm |
  31. Lisa

    I'm like Tom Hanks in "league of their own' when he says there is 'no crying in baseball'. If we want to build a better nation and we are to lend a helping hand..being strong is the stuff we American's are made of. So why are all the cable shows running all these negative ads to inform 'us' too stupid people to know whats right and wrong with the stimulas package that Has Already Passed and been signed.Whether your a republican , independent or democrat we need help. There should be 'NO Whinning' or politics now. Show us your looking out for the people who put you in the congress in the first place. If you don't play well with others YOU may find yourself looking for a NEW JOB!! We are excited about changing the government and making wall street and banks answer to us 'the people'. And shame on everyone who doesn't support what Our President is doing because there is one thing he gives us is HOPE. And all the knit picking just makes the players look bad.

    February 25, 2009 at 4:26 pm |
  32. Pauline

    Where were all these thrifty Repulicans during the last eight years of the Bush Presidency? Were they too much of a coward to come out against the Bush Presidency for the abuses and ruin of the USA and the middle class?s Theu also trashed the Constitution. Where were they when the SEC were looking the other way. I hope that Obama succeeds with his plans. If the Republicans don't join in to help I think the election in 2010 will take care of their demise. Thanks for listening.

    February 25, 2009 at 4:19 pm |
  33. Jodi Rae

    Conservativism. God-fearing, work-ethic abiding, good-hearted people. I live and love this state. It's a hidden treasure proven by our current economic state. We honor the new President but we don't all follow him as if he's a savior. We work to get what we need and want. We take action to the change other's just talk about. We band together in activity, in empathy for others and in chosing to live in the simple abundance of where we call HOME. North Dakota. A place where people are blessed for their beliefs. It is proven. Come visit a spell! You might just see the "change" you've been just talking about.

    February 25, 2009 at 3:32 pm |
  34. Marvin J. Greenberg

    People talk about the weather and the flat terrain but the important thing to remember is North Dakota is a stable economy and Fargo boasts one of the largest Microsoft Campuses in the US, not to forget North Dakota has in excess of 1 billion dollars in surplus.

    If you look at the US stimulus map North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota have surpluses. I guess the cold keeps the money from flowing out.

    Come join and enjoy the people and the comfort of knowing that there is a silver lining at the end of the rainbow FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA

    February 25, 2009 at 1:58 pm |
  35. Pete..... Chautauqua

    Life has trade-offs. Never been to Fargo but it's good to see some positive news. We live in the wintery wonderland of Western NY. We never saw an economic boom and I don't see the bust. I own two businesses, a restaurant and a construction company-both are running stronger this year than last. Estimates for future commercial construction work is heavy already. Eeyore looks like an optimist compared to many of the news anchors....

    February 25, 2009 at 1:10 pm |
  36. Jenny

    I live in Fargo and can definitely say we are doing well (thank God!). The economy is stable and the housing market is too. Things are not as robust as they were in 2004/5, but we are moving ahead w/ businesses starting up, houses being built and people.. for the most part trying to stay positive about the economy. Yes, it is cold and other times it is beyond cold. But the people are great, raising kids here is a blessing and when you need a hand, there are usually 20+ willing to help. So I guess I'll take a little "flatness" and a boring drive between Fargo and Bismark anyday!

    February 25, 2009 at 12:56 pm |
  37. Marty

    Except for plummeting retirement savings, etc. – some are NOT that affected ... tons frankly. AND there are tons of JOBS in tons of places due to all who have passed away.

    Hard to believe ...

    February 25, 2009 at 12:52 pm |
  38. earle,florida

    North Dakota (including Delaware) is/are the "Credit Card Issuer's,Bank Holding Companies Domicile"and still growing in the last decade. Lot's of money,lot's of good paying jobs,with a small population! It has nothing to do with their frugality. They enjoy the cold climate,and scenery,and happen to be in the right place at the right time! Let's all move to the pacific north west,but remember this,...you'll need snow-shoes.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:47 pm |
  39. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    If you are willing to "freeze" and work at the same time---all power to you--but you must understand-–every place is not Fargo!

    February 25, 2009 at 12:12 pm |
  40. Lilibeth

    Nice to hear that not everyone is bad off. Of course, every state is different. Maybe we can learn something from them. I look forward to this report.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  41. Lee

    I'm not surprised at all to hear this. There are probably other similar 'pockets of relative prosperity' elsewhere in the US, few as they may be at this point. And yes, the background and heritage of the area's residents has a great deal to do with the fact that the recession hasn't taken full hold in Fargo – yet. Maybe we could learn a few lessons here??

    February 25, 2009 at 12:03 pm |
  42. Craig, Hawaii

    I will never forget my roots in ND, even though I call Hawaii my home. A couple of facts: those who travel from Fargo to Bismarck and conclude the state is flat and boring are pretty ignorant. The western side is hills and has the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park with the historic town of Medora sitting on the southern edge. The western part of the state has deep oil pockets and the homes can't be built fast enough, or so it seems from the construction in my home town of Williston. My biggest complaint about all the construction is not one solar panel has been placed, conservation for the contractors appears to be a mute point. Sorry this is long, but ND gets a bad rap, sometimes deserved, but there is a lot of rich history in the state that seems to be over looked. Oh, and for the record, no, Mont Rushmore is in South Dakota... another often asked question!

    February 25, 2009 at 11:56 am |
  43. Jenny S

    This is awesome news.

    I live in south dakota and I've haven't really been noticing the recession here. Although we've seen very small businesses effected slightly by reducting work forces, everything else seems pretty normal.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  44. Linda Strasberg

    My neighbors are from North Dakota....I recently met their family who were visiting ...they're the nicest people...yet they all agreed they like the weather here just a little more...

    February 25, 2009 at 11:52 am |
  45. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    My guess is that Fargo has a cottage economy that is mostly isolated from national trends. I'll also bet that the genereal standard of living is pretty low in comparison to the rest of the U.S. along with the wage scale. I'm there are isolated rural coimmunities here and there around the U.S. that are pretty much self sustaining in the same way I just described.

    If there's no manufacturing there's no jobs to lose but the flip side is that there are some pretty low wages as well. I know my company pays a manager like myself considerably less in the North Dakota area than here in Vermont. Expectations are lower, wages are lower people in these areas have been kinda eeking out a living for decades. No growth and self sufficient economic isolation means great stability but virutally no opportunity to grow as well.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:51 am |
  46. Jim Thibodeau

    Devils lake, ND will get some of my money this summer when I show up for a Walleye fishing tournament I qualified for last year. Both North and South Dakota have been active over the past few years attracting hunters and fishermen to their state. It seems we will slow our spending down on other items but when it comes to the outdoors and vacations Americans will still spend money to hunt and fish with the family.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:00 am |
  47. Erin

    for anyone to say that the "economy is pretty good" is an ignorant statement. i understand their experience is different from the vast majority, but to act as if a recession does not exist is a bit of an overstatment.

    February 25, 2009 at 10:59 am |
  48. BettyAnn, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hello Gary,
    What a wonderful story! I am so glad Fargo is doing well. Ya darn tootin'!
    Thanks friend!

    February 25, 2009 at 10:33 am |
  49. Michael C. McHugh

    I once had the pleasure of driving from Fargo to Bismarck, and no offense North Dakota, but I've rarely seen so such nothing in my life. Maybe in Kazakhstan or the Nevada desert. North Dakota is one of those state that really does have one square man for one square mile, with more cows and buffalo than people.

    February 25, 2009 at 10:28 am |
  50. Joanne Pacicca, Solvay, NY

    Exactly what makes the economy of Fargo robust? What type of industry is located there?

    February 25, 2009 at 9:59 am |
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