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.