Unemployed Flock to North Dakota; What's Their Secret?

Bismarck sees lowest unemployment rate in U.S. at 3 percent, home sales jump.

October 19, 2011, 4:36 PM

Oct. 19, 2011— -- Bismarck is booming. In this North Dakota city, an economic portrait has emerged that is unlike any other in America. When landing in the state, the signs of growth can be seen everywhere.

Lines at the airport are longer than ever -- a record number of passengers entered the state last year, and a new hangar is getting built to accommodate the droves that are still coming. The airport is trying to get the hangar finished before winter hits, which could be any day.

Jobs are also in season. Help wanted signs are visible everywhere. Insurance sales, restaurants, retail -- they are all hiring.

There are 16,000 jobs up for grabs in North Dakota right now, with 3,000 in Bismarck, where unemployment is at a stunningly low 3 percent.

Behind the growth is the oil boom to the west of the state fueling the economy -- which looks to jump ahead of California and Alaska in oil production to become the No. 2 in the country.

Economists say it's not just the oil. They say Bismarck has a broad portfolio. Prices for agriculture, wheat and corn are up across the board. Farmers are doing well here.

Manufacturing is also up -- meat plants and factories that make heaters are hiring, to name a few.

"Not a day goes by when I don't receive a cold call or email from out of state job seekers," said a worker from the Job Service of North Dakota.

Calls come from workers like Mark Luna, a electrician, who had never been to Bismarck. He was out of work in Phoenix, and was looking for work to support his family. He heard about Bismarck's boom, and started sending resumes.

"In Arizona it took 30 days just to get a call back," Luna said. "Here, it took only a week."

A week -- not only for a call backbut an offer. Multiple offers. Luna moved his family to North Dakota two weeks later.

After finding a job here in Bismarck, the next major hurdle is finding a home. This is one of the few areas of the country where there's a housing boom.

The Hruby family moved to Country Lane in Bismarck from Wisconsin, and was put in a bidding war with other incoming buyers.

"The day they accepted our offer, they got 25 other calls," said Angela Hruby.

Some homes sell here in three weeks or less, and get 99 percent of the asking price -- sometimes more. Despite the national slump, home values are going up -- 6 percent this year.

In a town where the leaves have already changed colors, and Taylor Swift plays on the radio -- the hits just keep coming.

At St. Alexis hospital -- there's also been another boom -- babies. Every time a lullaby plays over the PA system, it means a new baby is born in Bismarck.

A doctor says that not long ago fewer than 90 deliveries a month was the norm. Now, doctors deliver about 110 babies a month, about 240 more babies a year at St. Alexis alone.

As the babies grow, so does Bismarck. Growing bigger every day.

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