Monday, September 19, 2011

How one state creates jobs and prosperity

Pop quiz: Which U.S. state has the lowest unemployment, fastest job growth, lowest foreclosure rate and lowest credit card default rate?
a. Texas
b. Ohio
c. Wisconsin
d. Florida
e. North Dakota

If you answered e,  you are not only correct, but you can take a hint from obvious clues like giant letters that spell out "North Dakota."

Some people, like reporters at the New York Times, believe North Dakota's success has to do with oil. But as Ellen Brown points out in Common Dreams, Alaska and Montana also have oil, and their unemployment rate is 7.7 percent. North Dakota's is 3.3 percent.

Brown identifies the surprising North Dakota difference: The state is the only one in the country that has its own bank. (And why not? Green Bay can have its own football team.) Writes Brown,
North Dakota’s money and banking reserves are being kept within the state and invested there. 
That's something a lot of banks don't do. Brown notes that the Bank of North Dakota has a product called Flex PACE,
...which allows a local community to provide assistance to borrowers in areas of jobs retention, technology creation, retail, small business, and essential community services.
In 2010, according to the BND annual report:The need for Flex PACE funding was substantial, growing by 62 percent to help finance essential community services as energy development spiked in western North Dakota. Commercial bank participation loans grew to 64 percent of the entire $1.022 billion portfolio.
The Bank of North Dakota has contributed more to the state budget than oil taxes over the past 15 years. It's been so successful that North Dakota recently lowered the state income and property taxes by $400 million.
Timothy Canova at the New America Foundation points out that North Dakota's bank reinvests in North Dakota.  He writes,
At the state level, North Dakota has enjoyed the benefits of a public bank since 1919. The Bank of North Dakota, the model of a state-owned bank, has operated continuously at a profit and according to conservative banking practices (including relatively modest compensation for the bank’s management). The state deposits its tax revenues in the Bank which in turn ensures that a high portion of state funds are invested in the state economy. In addition, the Bank is able to remit a portion of its earnings back to the state treasury – more than $300 million in the past decade. Thanks in part to these institutional arrangements, North Dakota is the only state that has been in continuous budget surplus since before the financial crisis and it has the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
(Hat tip to