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Forum editorial: Economic numbers for ND look good

As a measure of consumer confidence, the 2008 fourth-quarter North Dakota sales and use tax report is surprisingly upbeat. The fourth quarter, which included the Christmas buying season, showed a 20.1 percent gain in taxable sales and purchases o...

As a measure of consumer confidence, the 2008 fourth-quarter North Dakota sales and use tax report is surprisingly upbeat. The fourth quarter, which included the Christmas buying season, showed a 20.1 percent gain in taxable sales and purchases over the same three-month period in 2007. The strong fourth quarter followed an even stronger third quarter report

(28 percent gain over 2007), which seems to confirm that the state's economy is doing comparatively well. The overall gain for the year was 21 percent, a growth rate not seen since 1980.

The comparison, of course, is with the rest of the nation. The national recession, which began to affect the economy about midyear last year, has not been as devastating in North Dakota as in other states. North Dakota's economic indicators continue to confirm resilience, consumer confidence and only a modest uptick in unemployment. The taxable sales and purchases figures from the fourth quarter of last year suggest that most North Dakotans have not been so affected by recession that they've stopped buying.

A close read of the numbers finds North Dakotans are spending for things such as going out to dinner and traveling (up 8.5 percent), which indicates that disposable income has not tanked. The Tax Department's data also shows extraordinarily strong growth in counties and cities in the state's energy areas.

Additional analysis from the department suggests that even after business disruptions caused by spring flooding, the first quarter of 2009 is not showing a lag. Economic activity spurred by flood work and the federal stimulus for road building, for example, is expected to spur growth.

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Finally, new building permits for the first quarter of this year from the Fargo metro area are down, but mostly because of lousy spring weather and the extended flood fight. A report in Thursday's Forum revealed activity is picking up quickly with the end of flood work and the advent of warm weather. May numbers indicate an acceleration of building in the cities, and traffic in the recent Parade of Homes was described as fantastic by the Home Builders Association of Fargo-Moorhead.

The numbers for North Dakota are very good, relative to the economic woes in most other states. North Dakota's diversified economy, including the mainstays of agriculture and energy, the conservative nature of the state's sound banking sector, smart public investments and consumers who continue to spend, has contributed to stability and growth that are the envy of the nation. As the national recession bottoms out and a slow economic recovery takes hold, North Dakota is already ahead of the curve.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.

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