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. Art

    Maybe the folks in washington could learn something from this? Nice job, to everyone.

    February 26, 2009 at 7:21 am |
  2. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    Having has my career outsourced at least twice from my high tech high paying jobs in the last eight years I am now a branch manager of a temp labor company and making a livable wage. I have been thinnking about this whole mess we are in and I've come to relize that this all is a result of something very straight forward.

    Amid all the hype the origins of our current problem reduce to the fiollowing. ........

    #1 Outsourcing of American infrastructure and the resulting high paying jobs with no government or private sector intiative to replace that lost infrastructure with something equivalent.

    #2 Lack of any government or private sector leadership toward a Patriotic Economic policy. It's simply been GREED for short term gain thats been driving virtually everything over the last decade with no thought wat so ever toward our nation and it's people.

    Everything from the housing crisis to the stock market are merely after effects of these flawed policies or lack of policies. I am now convinced that Until we correct them there will be no real long term solution. We will just continue to spiral down as a nation.

    February 26, 2009 at 6:59 am |
  3. chuck

    THat does not explain why some businesses are holding back on the work week of their employees and others are laying off people or have allready laid off many people----–A FARGO NATIVE OF 30 YEARS .....

    February 26, 2009 at 5:06 am |
  4. llabesab

    I guess The Anointed One hasn't been to Fargo. Every city he visits gets the "Kiss of Death." Now, some poor dog will suffer because it's "so chic" for the White House to have a dog. Why not spare some poor, unfortunate animal that has done nothing to deserve such treatment and "adopt' Nancy Pelosi instead. She's been up the Anointed Ones's A-Hole anyway.

    February 26, 2009 at 4:42 am |
  5. Eric

    I voted for Ron Paul...don't blame me.

    – Resident of Fargo

    February 26, 2009 at 4:00 am |
  6. nickolas banks

    Of course we are in bad shape,but we all have to understand that its a cycle. What makes everyone think this wont happen again maybe when im even 70 or 80 whick im only 21. MONEY and GREED

    February 26, 2009 at 3:25 am |
  7. rasfanta

    I'll tell you what happened to America: Immigration and globalism. Selling Americans a bill of goods about diversity and how good it is for us. Talking like this was still a brand-new country like during Mayflower times. Reducing Americans to facilitators for others, so much so, that Americans began to feel like the immigrant. Then came 911 and you were reminded that everybody is not America's friend. Let the world take care of their problems in they homes and we will take care of our problems here.

    February 26, 2009 at 3:23 am |
  8. james IN,

    are they ever going to put a stop to Immigration From Mexico? seems they are taking all the jobs

    February 26, 2009 at 3:20 am |
  9. me

    Thats right CNN he hasn't taken a position on it yet. That does not mean he won't! Stop putting doubt into peopl. I'm sooo ashamed of CNN right now.......

    February 26, 2009 at 3:12 am |
  10. Kristi

    I guess the secret's out! I've lived in Fargo my entire life and can't imagine being anywhere else. Good schools (including three 4-year universities – NCAA Division I, II and III), low crime, great people. Curling's ok, but as far as winter sports go, I think this is hockey country.

    While oil may have helped boost ND's surplus, the fact that Fargo pulls a lot of people to town from a wide area for entertainment, health care, and shopping certainly doesn't hurt. Despite being a metro of about 200,000 people, it's still rarely more than a 20-minute commute from one end to the other. We're easily the biggest metro center in a 200+ mile radius and are at the intersection of 2 interstates. It's commonplace to see Canadian license plates (if not buses!) all over town to take advantage of the weak US dollar, especially around Christmas and for back-to-school shopping. If they're not in Fargo, they often in stop in Grand Forks, some 80 miles north.

    ND's famous common sense approach doesn't just apply to economics. After the devastation left behind by Katrina and Rita I think many in the Red River Valley thought of the flood of 1997. There was no whining until government help came. Instead, there were communities banding together to sandbag strangers' homes, getting out their fishing boats to check on/evacuate neighbors, etc. There's an attitude of let's fix it and move on. Grand Forks completely rebuilt their downtown less than 3 years after being underwater and on fire at the same time.

    I'll take the boring drives, the flatness, and the -50 wind chills any day – keeps the riff raff out. You haven't really lived until your eyelashes freeze together anyway! Fargo rocks!

    February 26, 2009 at 2:47 am |
  11. Dan Helmchen

    Dennis Kusinich waiting for 12.5 hours to have an isle seat – is this a teanager at a Myle Syris concert.?

    February 26, 2009 at 2:39 am |
  12. Anthony

    Citizens of the United States, regardless of their political base, should acknowledge the fact that President Obama is now confronted with an immense predicament born on the backs of financial swindlers. The recompense his cabinet might obtain is directly proportionate to the amount of bi-partisanship The President is able to obtain.

    February 26, 2009 at 1:46 am |
  13. RC

    I have read the negative comments about North Dakota and many appear to come from residents of the eastern states of the US. Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, colors AND landscapes!! Our largest industry (agriculture) literally feeds the entire world. AND, we have coal, oil and some of the largest wind farms in the nation. Hey, Wall Street, NYC and DC- what is your major industry?- Production of the worst crooks in the history of civilization that made the world's biggest and greatest nation fall to it's knees!!??

    And in response to Gene P from Vermont-

    I am a transplant from the west coast and to say that our standards in ND are lower is WAY off base. Standard of living here outpaces any other area of the country and there is also a higher standard set for the people here too. FACT- One of the highest high school and college graduate rates, and more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country! To say that your wages are higher compared to the same managerial job here is because "expectations are lower" is so very ignorant! I would guess to say that your cost of living is much higher in your area and that is why you get paid more to "eek" out a living.

    February 26, 2009 at 1:12 am |
  14. Jules in Colorado

    I have known and worked with many people from North Dakota and found them to be very racist and I stopped hanging out with them.

    They frequently use the word "coon" when talking about blacks.

    They talk openly about how mexicans are stupid and lazy and should be sent back to Mexico.

    They talk about how the mexicans and blacks are the cause of all America's problems.

    So, yeah, North Dakota is great – if you're white.

    February 26, 2009 at 1:10 am |
  15. Blake

    Everyone read what Jodi Rae posted because that about sums it up. Don’t believe it? Come to our family reunion and cry about what you think is wrong with the country. Anyway, I miss those Christmases out at the farm. Yes, sub-zero temperatures and an outhouse out in back of the farm house that was so cold it would start to steam and make it difficult to see if you were hitting the hole. Tough, kind, hard working coupon cutting folks not afraid to roll up their sleeves and earn a real living. That is the Red River valley I remember.

    February 26, 2009 at 12:59 am |
  16. John

    Show the people you will be diligent in your quest to right the wrong and you will restore consumer confidence.
    1) Identify those responsible for the demise of the economy and hold them accountable for their actions
    2) Indentify those that were to protect us and hold them accountable
    3) Appoint an Ombudsman to direct those investigations and keep the public well informed of convictions
    4) Put an immediate hault to distribution of any funds from the first $700 Billion stimlus package and conduct an immediate audit on how monies already distributed have been allocated.
    5) Those companies that have not used the money wisely must be held accountable and the remaining dollars returned.
    6) Those government officials responsible for overseeing the proper distribution and use of the stimulus must be held accountable
    7) Form a presidential advisory group of the most successful and honest business people to formulate plans for a speedy recovery and keep the public well informed of their strategies

    February 26, 2009 at 12:51 am |
  17. Steve Zlatev

    I remember there was a thought a decade ago to join North and South Dakotas... since there were more people in state governments then people in the states. Overall how is my situation better in NJ knowing some people in a frigid place are eking a survival?

    I guess all those hoards of unemployed should travel to nowhere, X.Dakota to even out those unemployment figures.

    In conclusion, I am glad there are some tad more intelligent people to have made sound financial decisions. Were those their decision or ones made for them.... well....

    February 26, 2009 at 12:05 am |
  18. steve shipp

    i have watched ac360 for years and never commented before. I am compelled to ask(and disclose accordingly that i am a person of color)
    how many poor people of color reside in Fargo. My assumption is two fold; first, they dont have the subsidy of poor to consider as a minimal threshold to funding local government and secondly if those cities which have many of these persons of color on subsidy they should adopt work ethics as were displayed on your show. Much Luv Anderson


    February 25, 2009 at 11:51 pm |
  19. Joe

    This summer more Americans died on the streets of Chicago than in iraq? You'll never see that fact on CNN. What about those people who Obama appointed to his cabinet that did not play their taxes. One of them got to keep their job. If that was me I'd be thrown in jail. Talk about change LOL

    February 25, 2009 at 11:49 pm |
  20. Deb Stevens

    I'm moving to Fargo sign me up.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:48 pm |
  21. Skip

    I just have one question that I would love for someone to clearly answer. President Obama keeps saying that we did not get into this mess over night, nor will we get out of it over night. So if this is true, why have we waited for so long to jump and do something about it? This thing is huge! You would think that all of these so call "experts" would have said something to the Wall Street bankers a long time ago. It makes me mad, because now as 24 year old, I would never be able to get approved to buy my first home! And I pay my bills on time! Every time!

    February 25, 2009 at 11:45 pm |
  22. Steve Bell

    I would like to hear about our foreign aid programs. Have we cut back? Or are we still sending billions to other countries? This time, we may need to think about ourselves first, and then resume foreign aid when we can better afford it.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:44 pm |
  23. Katiebug

    To Michael McHugh: We North Dakotans love people like you who make negative comments about our state – it keeps the riff raff out! I can tell you exactly why the recession hasn't affected ND – because our lenders are not greedy nor stupid. They don't make loans to people who have no chance in hell of making a payment, just so they can line their own pockets. We care about our neighbors. We are hard working, ethical & honest people and we want to keep it that way, so you keep telling everyone how awful it is here, okay?

    February 25, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  24. DocMara

    We're are doing well here. As someone born in Arizona, I had to make a few adjustments, but it's actually a lovely place to live. I curl at the club in this story (and cross-country ski every week). During the summer, we run by the Red River and camp a lot. The secret to Fargo's success is the diversity in resources and industries (it's hardly a boomtown, and seldom feels the lows as deeply). We have more and more diversity (with the growing University, refugees, and growth at Microsoft). FYI, the partner and I just had some fantastic mussels in wine sauce, spinach salad with fennel, bing cherries and truffle dressing, and fantastic winter beer and Sauvignon Blanc. The food is just fine here.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:38 pm |
  25. Paul Schroeder

    Paul in columbus, oh. Hi , I was just watching our local evening news and I was shocked what I just saw. They were reporting on where the money from the stimulus monety was wanted, and one of the request s was 10 million dollars for the toledo zoo to open a new hippo and elephant exhibit. Don't you think there are a little more important issues to spend that money on!!!

    February 25, 2009 at 11:24 pm |
  26. Carlos Perez

    I just spent 900,000,000 in building this how can i afford this well i am using my 401Ks, my Gm stocks, and my Cit Group Stocks to pay all of this off............ This will not back fire at all

    February 25, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  27. Pete


    Why doesn't anyone talk about the difference in cost of living? $250,000 in New Jersey and New York where we are taxed at an insane rate and have enormous property taxes is NOT the same and does not get you to the same level as $250,000 in other parts of the country. How much taxes will be enough? 50%, 60%, what about 70%? This is a joke. I am a small business owner who puts in 60-70 hours a week because I want to retire early. And now Obama feels it is "Patriotic" for me to pay more? HELP US ANDERSON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 25, 2009 at 11:15 pm |
  28. Tony Thomas

    The general public does not understand what the F-22 does and it's mission. The aircraft does SO Much more than air superiority. This aircraft is much more than that. Please don’t have the view that it just a Stealth Aircraft. It does much more than that. It’s like trying to compare a portable 8 track tape player to a Modern Ipod touch. I can't go into detail with what it does; however after working on the development on it, Rest assured that it is the most advanced flying aircraft now and will be for at least the next 30 plus years. I can assure you that it is very important to the defensive protective net that safeguards America.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:14 pm |
  29. Nan

    I am very angry at all the spending, I makes no logical sense. No way to buy yourself out of debt. And I don't understand all the pork or embedded social changes. I feel taken in and foolish for believing things would change for the better.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:13 pm |
  30. Peter C

    If you want to bring jobs back to the United States of America, the associated tax revenues that can pay down the deficit and return the economy to any semblance of health, we need to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs into countries where healthcare is a non issue, and where Universal Health Care is a freebie for them!

    In part it was this that caused most large U.S. Companies to outsource jobs, enabling them to get out from beneath backbreaking healthcare costs.

    Taxes are also a non issue for most of them. Here in the U.S. loop holes in the tax code would allow them to fly 747’s through them and yet it is still cheaper to move jobs and hire in some of the countries where wages not only match but likely exceed those that were paid in the U.S.

    Change is hard but maybe it’s just time to stop listening to tired old solutions that have not, can not and will NOT provide recovery from the monumental disaster created by those tired old solutions!

    February 25, 2009 at 11:13 pm |
  31. Linda Kaye

    Has anyone thought about a furlough for all Federal government employees (except emergency essential) for just one day, not a week not a month, but just one day. Does anyone have an idea how much this would save (just one day), and the savings could possible pay for some of these programs or aid in helping the economy recover.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
  32. Harold Dugan


    With all these earmarks, social security, medicare, defense, what happened to getting that Veterans Disability Commission Bill passed in Congress and signed by the President so the Veterans Compensation Program will get a long over due Pay raise. I understand it has not been done since 1935. If you really want to help Disabled American Veterans drawing Compensation that will help all of us with better Quality of Life. Another thing hidden is The Agent Orange Diseases and Illnesses that are killing off Vietnam Veterans one by one. The Order of The Silver Rose found on the Internet is trying their Best to do what Congress and The White House are not either through Ignorance or trying to avoid. I was surprised to hear Dr. Phil taking an Active Role on what Disabled American Veterans are dealing with. If this is to tough for you to Investigate I will try to understand.

    February 25, 2009 at 11:04 pm |
  33. Mike W

    i lived in the west for a year in lander WY and the econmy their was a lot better than it is here in pittsburgh PA its because small town consertive america doesnt over spend unlike big city america does

    February 25, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  34. Co

    The point you seem to be missing is that Fargo, like much of that part of the United States, is more Canadian than Canada, and many of the problems afflicting the U.S. right now are not afflicting Canada in the same way (although we are afflicted, to be sure, but mostly because we are dependent on the health of the U.S.) Those folks, like the folks in "fargo" (the movie) seemed more Canadian than I am - and I am Canadian! We didn't have a subprime crisis here, because we, like the folks in Fargo, aren't quite so stupid.

    February 25, 2009 at 10:51 pm |
  35. Jose Antonio Diaz

    They should call him Stallion or Knight both strong and brave!!!! wink..lol
    I love dogs..ruff

    February 25, 2009 at 10:51 pm |
  36. Luis

    Does Fargo have a newspaper company in the area?

    Why do I ask?

    It seem like all the liberal bias newspapers and radio talk shows are hitting the brakes hard.

    Ask yourself Why?

    February 25, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  37. Chris

    I'm at my dad's house right now. We were watching the local news when we saw a couple of segments about a dog whose tongue was injured by a defective ball and another about how you can save money by buying frozen vegtables at the grocery store. Disgusted, I told me dad to change the channel to national news and admonished him about watching mindless local news. He changed it to Adnerson Cooper 360 when we saw the segment about the racoon problem at the White House complete with the the graphic of the racoon popping onto the screen and the growling sound effect. My dad turned to me and asked "you were saying." You imbeciles.

    February 25, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  38. brett

    I think we could free up some money by spending it on endangered mice!

    February 25, 2009 at 10:43 pm |
  39. LorenaR

    Have to confess I know nothing about North Dakota, and Fargo,(except it makes me think of Frances McDormand), but I have respected the career of Byron Dorgan for many years. It seemed to me that he was a politician of integrity; i hope he still is.

    February 25, 2009 at 10:39 pm |
  40. Patricia Nissen

    Along with most Americans, I am extremely concerned about passing on a tremendous debt to our children and grandchildren. I recently asked a group of friends what they thought of this suggestion. At the end of each year when we file our tax return, there is a space asking if you as a taxpayer would like to contribute $3.00 to the Presidential Election Campaign. I would like to see that replaced by, "Do you, or your spouse, if filing a joint return, want to contribute_____(fill in the amount you'd like)) to the national debt. Every person I asked said they would gladly make a contribution. It would be interesting to see what American Taxpayers think.

    February 25, 2009 at 10:39 pm |
  41. robyncaffrey keyser westvirginia

    i read all the coments'

    ya know i was always told all my life

    ( the grass is greener on the other side
    ( remember ) the rude awakeing could happen anytime.

    yes we can """"

    February 25, 2009 at 10:32 pm |
  42. vera

    anderson cooper is not jaded, just truthful...and calls things as he see them. keep it up

    February 25, 2009 at 10:31 pm |
  43. Matt J. Sorenson, Fargo

    @Gene from Vermont...
    "low standard of living, lower expectations, no growth, no manufacturing"
    hehehe really? I suppose you think we don't have software companies either, and are just cutting our collective teeth on the interwebs. Whatever pal, nice try tho.

    @Mike in NYC...
    "city life isn't like it's cracked up to be"
    I've never cracked up city life in the first place, and we do have at least a few good eats - stop out for a taste sometime.

    Now if'n y'all'll excuse me, I need to see to my horse, make sure I can get to my engineering job tomorrow.

    February 25, 2009 at 10:30 pm |
  44. Rose from NY

    Looks like self-reliance beats government reliance, hmmm?

    February 25, 2009 at 10:28 pm |
  45. CT

    ND is doing well because it doesn't have an overblown government. The state legislature only meets every other year. The less the government is involved the better off we all are. Common sense...if the rest of the government would get some of it and stop worrying about a "power-grab".

    February 25, 2009 at 10:18 pm |
  46. Jose Antonio Diaz

    With all of this spending....I've come too see that we do need to move forward... but at what price? I believe that we need to really get to the very poor groups and have them appreciate and WAKE-UP and see we have to move forward or the America we know may not be......and that's our new reality.

    Artist have a lot of power.......where are they?

    February 25, 2009 at 10:16 pm |
  47. Amanda Walton-Fort Erie, Ontario

    Okay now Gary, I hope you be enjoying yourself there in Fargo, North Dakota. I hear the people are very friendly, ya

    I met some people from North Dakota on my travels this past year and they were some of the nicest people I had ever met. They sound almost like the people of the Canadian north, eh!

    I do wonder if they are like the Canadians also they will be pulled down with the economy slowly but surely.

    North Dakota buys fleets of buses partially made in Manitoba, then they are shipped to North Dakota where they finish assembling them, it's nice to see neighbours in a combined effort for a finished product.

    Okay now Gary, you stay warm there and don't ya forget to stay safe too 🙂

    February 25, 2009 at 10:03 pm |
  48. Miranda

    Wasn't there a movie made there like a while back when the economy was still good.Well I'm glad people in the middle of nowhere don't feel the recession I'm happy for them like I'm happy I live in California.

    February 25, 2009 at 9:58 pm |
  49. Mike in NYC


    My remark about ethnic restaurants was not a criticism. Dining options actually rank rather low on my quality of life checklist.

    @Shannon in ND:

    Being a "mecca of diversity" is not necessarily something to strive for.

    February 25, 2009 at 9:55 pm |
  50. Sarah A. -- North Dakota

    Another North Dakota native checking in...

    I am reserved and pleased that North Dakota is doing well but It is also good to keep the optimism in check. Fortunes can change. Perhaps the hard times have taught North Dakotans to be cautious and work hard to achieve our goals. North Dakota is not perfect by any means but we have also never had the overblown prosperity and shaky business practices that some parts of the country have experienced. Perhaps the conservative nature of the states finances is a benefit it provides money for a rainy day and nationally many areas do not have that "rainy day" money.

    North Dakota winters are a challenge but it always puts a smile on my face when an news anchors face goes white at the comment of -35 with a -55 windchill.

    Fargo may not have the diversity of LA or NYC but it does have some ethnic restaurants including Thai, Bosnian and Greek food.

    I do have to agree and disagree about the flatness. In some ways the flatness is beautiful because you can go into the country and see the stars and dream. Sunsets and sunrises are spectacular and you see the sun actually rise on the horizon. The Badland, Pembina Gorge and Sheyenne River Valley are stunning. North Dakota truly does have some beautiful spots, a varied history, and interesting personalities.

    February 25, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
1 2 3