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A tale of two counties

North Dakota county found to be ‘least economically stressful’ in the U.S., while San Joaquin is among most

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Posted: Friday, October 8, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 5:32 am, Sat Oct 9, 2010.

More than 1,500 miles away from Lodi on the outskirts of Minot, N.D., families gather in makeshift tent cities because of the city's housing crisis. But unlike San Joaquin County's housing crisis, people in Minot are waiting for homes to be built because the demand for residences greatly outpaces the supply for the town of roughly 40,000.

Minot, located in Ward County, has basically avoided the Great Recession better than anywhere else in the country. Buttressed by acres of wheat fields, thousands of military jobs, tourism and an ocean of oil, Ward County is the least economically stressful place in the nation, according to The Associated Press' Economic Stress Index, a tool used to measure the effect of the recession and recovery from it by analyzing the combined effect of bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment. Due to its reputation as the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis, high unemployment numbers and bankruptcy filings, San Joaquin County is rated as the tenth most economically stressful county in the nation to live in, according to The Associated Press.

As the city that effectively serves as the county's economic powerhouse, Minot is home to customer service centers for companies like Choice Hotels International and financial services giant ING. Energy companies like Halliburton are flocking to the area and offering high-paying jobs to cash in on the Bakken Formation, a site the United States Geological Survey said in 2008 the area could easily produce between 3 and 4 billion barrels of oil.

"It's brought in a tremendous amount of people," said Jim Mellow, general manager of the Grand International Inn, a destination hotel in the city about the oil.

The Minot Air Force Base, home to more than 10,000 personnel and their families, is home to the 5th Bomb Wing, one of two B-52H Stratofortress bomber bases in the Air Force.

The Grand International Inn will benefit from relatives of service members visiting and needing a place to stay, Mellow said. Another big source of revenue for the inn are Canadian tourists looking to take advantage of the exchange rates, he said.

"There is lots of shopping and our prices are attractive to them," he said. "They are flocking down here and it helps lodging."

There are several more hotels being built in Minot, he said.

Ward County's economy is also driven by the area's agricultural capabilities. Farmers there grow copious amounts of wheat, barley and lentils, but one county official says the area's oil supply is what provides for a large amount of its financial security.

"As long as oil stays above 70 bucks a barrel, we will be smiling all the way to the bank," said Bruce Christianson, chairman of the Ward County Commission.

The county is also expanding its oil-collection capabilities, he said. In 2010, Ward County surpassed its own record for number of drilling wells in the state.

Although it seems new oil companies are bringing jobs to town on a daily basis, Minot's city manager said there are economic hardships for people in the community. Finding affordable housing can be a problem for the residents who don't land the high-paying jobs with the oil companies, said David Waind, city manager of Minot.

Waind said he was at a housing meeting recently and heard people saying oneand two-bedroom apartments were renting for between $800 and $1,200 a month.

But besides the housing crisis, Minot struggles to have a sufficient number of service employees, police officers and firefighters.

"There are growing pains. But it's a good problem to have," said Mellow.

Data not so rosy for San Joaquin County, but Lodi stays insulated

Although the numbers are bad for the county, Lodi appears to be at least somewhat insulated due to its history of slow growth and economic diversity.

"With its substantial base of locally owned businesses and the agricultural foundation of the north part of the county, Lodi played well in what was several years of recession," said Mike Locke, president and CEO of the San Joaquin Partnership, a private, non-profit economic development corporation that serves the county.

"Sometimes in national data, we don't get to distinguish communities within a metropolitan area. Everything gets merged into an overly simplistic set."

Lodi grows by about 1 percent a year, and city communications specialist Jeff Hood said that conservative growth played a significant role in not causing the city to suffer worse during the recession. Unlike its neighbors, Lodi didn't embrace large-scale developments commonly funded by expected future income, he said.

The city's agricultural production is also a stable industry that has helped steer Lodi through hard times, Hood said.

"People will always need to eat," he said.

Although San Joaquin County's unemployment rate is more than 16 percent, Hood said Lodi's more closely mirror's the state's figure of 12 percent.

The Reynolds Ranch project and Costco coming to Lodi are also moves that point to a brighter future for the city, Locke said.

Costco will bring jobs, sales tax revenue and other major retailers in tow to the center, he said.

"The Reynolds Ranch project was good positioning by the city and long-term should bode well for Lodi," he said.

Lodi's methodical approach to development and expansion has been one of its biggest strengths, Hood said.

"From a development standpoint, the city hasn't over-extended itself."

Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com.

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  • Doug Chaney posted at 6:25 pm on Fri, Oct 8, 2010.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    I was born in North Dakota. Dickinson. My uncle John, who is deceased now, has a very wealthy family due to him being one of the few wheat farmers who refused to sell his farm to the oil industry back in the late 40's and early 50's. He eventually started a large chicken raising operation and leases his oil rights to the industry, and has since the early 50's. There are over 12 still producing wells that operate 24 hours a day since then and his royalty money has been the family Godsend to this day, still is, and will be until the land is sold, stolen, or the world ends. God bless my uncle John, and if not for the love of farming and his chickens, he would have sold like the other uncles and aunts, and my grandmother, did for a very good price for their land and buildings. The prices were in the 20-30K range and that was a tidy sum of money in those times. Most of my North Dakota kin settled in Portland, Or., Spokane, WA. area, Salem, OR, and the tri-city area of WA., Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, and continued to farm. They were typical midwest farm families, with the men honest, hard working, hard drinking and very dedicated to their farms and helping one another whether times were good or bad. There weren't many machines those days and the manual labor was very intensive and started and ended when they were too tired to continue or it was too dark to work. The typical hay bale was about 90 pounds and "bucked" entirely with brute brawn. Today's farmers that could survive in those days are few and far between.

  • Jon Hendrickson posted at 12:53 pm on Fri, Oct 8, 2010.

    Jon Hendrickson Posts: 1

    Growing up in Minot, I heard people referring to Lodi as "Little North Dakota." Back in the day, North Dakota license plates were a common sight in Lodi. Not so much anymore, but the connection's still there. And it's more than just coincidence. If you pay attention to the counties listed as the "least economically stressed," the common theme is that they're all kind of economic backwaters of the country who didn't participate much in the "boom," and not so much in the "bust," either. It's pretty much a matter of "steady as she goes," which is probably a reason they're in the economic backwater of the country.



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