Dakotas are wooing Minnesota workers, companies

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2013 - 6:05 AM

The two states are appealing directly to workers and companies across the border.

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May 17, 2003: This billboard shown stands along Interstate 94 in Moorhead, Minn., and can be seen driving into North Dakota.

Photo: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press

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North and South Dakota want Minnesotans and their businesses to go west, and they’re making brazen overtures.

The states are appealing directly to workers and businesses in Minnesota, asking them to head for the border. This spring, when Minnesota lawmakers hiked the cigarette tax, created a higher top-tier individual income tax and expanded the sales tax to a handful of industries, a fresh round of interstate wooing ensued.

South Dakota’s governor hawked Sioux Falls and Brookings on a May afternoon at the Mall of America. North Dakota’s chamber threw up a yellow-and-black “open for business” billboard on Interstate 94 just east of Fergus Falls, and may put another in the Twin Cities.

“Companies are coming [to North Dakota] because of a tax, legal and regulatory environment that is superior to Minnesota’s,” said Andy Peterson, president of the Greater North Dakota Chamber. “I will tell you this: that if you look at the North Dakota side of the Minnesota-North Dakota border, it’s been happening for years.”

The Dakotas both have tight labor markets, with unemployment at 3.3 percent in North Dakota and 4.1 percent in South Dakota, compared with 5.3 percent in Minnesota and 7.6 percent nationally. Per capita income growth in the Dakotas has surpassed Minnesota in the past five years. And while South Dakota has one of the slowest-growing economies in America, oil-rich North Dakota has the nation’s fastest-growing.

Yet Minnesota has something the Dakotas need: a big, skilled workforce. And the states are making their pitch to Minnesotans, with an argument that is mostly about lower taxes.

“We think we have a business operational, competitive advantage,” said David Owen, president of the statewide chamber of commerce in South Dakota. “We’re having trouble finding people, which isn’t rare in this part of the country.”

South Dakota is trying all sorts of things. It launched Dakota Roots — a website designed to connect South Dakota expatriates with in-state jobs — in October 2006. About 3,000 Minnesotans have registered and 534 found jobs and relocated their families to South Dakota.

In 2012 the state hired ManpowerGroup Inc. to bring in 1,000 new people over two years. Recently, Gov. Dennis Daugaard paid a visit to the Mall of America, shook hands and chatted people up on a swing through the Twin Cities.

His state has the second-lowest per capita taxation in America. It has no corporate income tax, no personal income tax (compared with the new 9.85 percent rate for couples making more than $250,000 in Minnesota), a lower cost of unemployment insurance than Minnesota, a lower cost of living, lower health care costs and cheaper energy.

Despite all this, South Dakota has had little success luring Minnesotans. Net migration in 2011 was 37 people, according to the latest census data.

Rodessa Padua, the 21-year-old manager of a hat shop near where Daugaard was standing, wasn’t terribly impressed with the idea of relocating. “I like the Twin Cities a lot,” she said. “They have Mount Rushmore. That’s all I really know.”

Oil is a big attraction

North Dakota has had more success. With the oil boom, the state’s economy — which is still just one-fourteenth the size of Minnesota’s — is growing four times as fast. Job growth has been 30 percent over the past 10 years, compared with 3.2 percent in Minnesota.

That’s translating into some cross-border migration. Minnesota lost 4,740 people to North Dakota in 2011, and over the past 10 years, the flow of people commuting west across the Red River has grown a little faster than the flow eastward.

This isn’t all because of the oil boom, said Peterson. “Oil is a very thick frosting on the cake, but it’s not the cake.”

Companies including Marvin Windows, Caterpillar, John Deere and Digi-Key have expanded, and probably will continue to expand along the I-29 corridor in eastern North Dakota.

Mark Larson, the president of Digi-Key, which employs 2,600 people in Thief River Falls, said Minnesota income taxes prompted the company to open a facility in Fargo. At first it was just going to be a storage facility, but after the legislative session’s tax hike for top earners, the plans for Fargo grew.

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  • Mark Larson is president of Digi-Key, a Minnesota company considering further expansion in eastern North Dakota.

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