Williston Area Beats Fargo Area In Taxable Sales Figures

For some time Fargo, and surrounding Cass County, were called the “economic engine” of North Dakota. Usually by Fargo-area politicians justifying focusing more of the states resources on their community over other parts of the state. But setting east vs. west politics aside, there’s little doubt that North Dakota’s most densely populated county has also historically provided the largest share of the state’s economic activity.

Until just recently.

State Tax Commissioner Cory Fong has just released sales tax figures for the first quarter in 2011, and the figures are amazing. Per the Associated Press, “The five cities with the biggest percentage increases for the first quarter all are in western North Dakota’s booming oil patch.” But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The full report is below, but here’s some interesting analysis:

The top two cities with the largest total sales tax revenues are Fargo, with $480,906,616 in collections, and Williston, with $447,058,253 in collections. Now, it’s amazing enough that Williston (population 14,716 according to the 2010 census) is second to Fargo (population 105,549 according to the 2010 census) but if we zoom out a bit to look at regional sales tax collections it’s the Williston area (Williams County) that beats the Fargo area (Cass County) in sales collections.

Williams County collected $550,610,545 in sales taxes in the first quarter of 2011, representing 114.72% growth over the 1st quarter of 2010. Cass County collected $543,641,091, representing 5.59% growth. And keep in mind that the sales tax is the biggest chunk of the state’s income by far. Oil taxes, coming in about $200 million less than sales tax collections, is second. If we calculated those figures in too, the Williston area would be beating the Fargo area by a country mile.

But I digress.

Now, my intent here isn’t to disparage the Fargo area. Far from it. It’s encouraging to see Fargo’s economy growing, and 5.59% is nothing to sneeze at. My intent, rather, is to point out just how profoundly the oil boom in the west is impacting the state’s finances. And just how mistaken state policy makers have been in pouring money into higher education empire-building schemes while neglecting infrastructure in the west.

2011 1 Stat Report

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Jamermorrow

    We will have a bunch of educated people with no jobs. Education has little to do with economic development. That being said infrastructure spending is about the only legitimate function the state government should have.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      It should be a mark of shame that, despite 125% spending growth over the last 10 years, our western infrastructure (roads and bridges in particular) is crumbling.

      You’re right.  Infrastructure is priority #1, but our political leaders have been to busy porking up higher education.

  • NDSuperman

    We are continually told that higher education is extremely important to the state and people, but I have to ask, does it have anything to do with the monumental success in Western North Dakota?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      One game a lot of apologists for North Dakota’s university system like to play is characterizing criticism of the universities as being anti-education.

      I should note that I’m not anti-education, and would note that a lot of the people working in the west (geologists, engineers, scientists, etc.) are undoubtedly university educated.  My problem with North Dakota’s university system is that they’re prioritized enrollment growth over delivering quality education students can actually use in the real world.

      They’re more worried about packing their buildings full, so they can justify new buildings and bigger salaries for themselves.

      • NDSuperman

        Personally, looking back, I wish I would have majored in Geology when I went to North Dakota State, because I think I would love to be out with those guys hunting mud, instead of sitting at a desk.  Furthermore, I will encourage my daughter to advance her education at a state university.  However, I look at the problem maybe in a slightly different way.  I believe that she should pay the cost of her education in its entirety.  I consider it to be immoral to ask citizens of the state to pay for the education of some one who will go on to make much more money (in general) than they do…provided they graduate.  If they don’t graduate?  Well, if you want, I could take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed…I’ve got extra time.  Now, I plan to help my daughter pay for some school expenses, but she is not excluded from my feelings on the matter.

      • ec99

        “delivering quality education students can actually use in the real world.”

        Higher ed does offer such programs.  You can’t twist arms to take them instead of English, Gender/Race Studies, Philosophy, and other majors which are not attractive to employers.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          No, but we can stop subsidizing higher education so that if they take the worthless courses they’re only wasting their own money.  And if they were paying for it themselves, they might be more prone to take courses that give them skills that are more marketable.

  • badlands4

    I was in Williston today. I firmly believe there is about a half a million people living in Williston judging by the gridlock…yes, gridlock AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Growing pains, but hey it’s better than tumbleweeds clogging the streets.

  • Jimmmypop

    GOOD FOR THE WEST! now all we need is the state to start being conservative and move toward keeping ALL local money local and we will all win.

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