Controversial billboard touting North Dakota business climate moved away from ND-MN border

  • Updated: July 2, 2013 - 11:30 AM

FARGO, N.D. — Statistics are showing North Dakota's superiority over Minnesota when it comes to job creation — something at the heart of a controversial billboard erected on the two states' border and later moved for unclear reasons.

The total number of jobs in North Dakota grew nearly 34 percent from December 2002 to December 2012, according to the North Dakota Labor Market Information Center. Minnesota saw only about 3 percent growth, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

North Dakota's Cass County, home to Fargo, saw a nearly 28 percent increase in total jobs during that time span. Minnesota's Clay County, home to Moorhead, saw 7 percent growth.

"I think we're starting to see through these types of numbers what state policy does to us right along the border," Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland told The Forum newspaper (http://bit.ly/14KP5eo ). "I think it also shows the strengthening of North Dakota economy with the oil. It's just a little more desirable, I think."

The Greater North Dakota Chamber in mid-May tried to capitalize on the oil boom and also on what many officials say is a better tax climate than Minnesota.

The group put up a bright yellow billboard along Interstate 94 in Moorhead, which neighbors Fargo, that reads "North Dakota. Open for Business." It angered some officials on both sides of the border who thought it too confrontational, including Moorhead Councilman Mark Hintermeyer and Craig Whitney, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber.

The billboard has since been moved down the interstate in Minnesota to a spot near Fergus Falls. The North Dakota Chamber said the move was planned and had nothing to do with the bad reception the sign received in Fargo-Moorhead.

Jon Godfread, the group's vice president for government affairs, said the backlash the sign received locally actually helped by attracting media attention, making the investment "that much better."

The North Dakota Chamber in a May 30 statement said it would be spreading its message farther into Minnesota "through the placement of a second billboard" near Fergus Falls, not by moving the first billboard. It also stated that "additional billboards are planned in Minnesota" during the summer.

As of Monday, the billboard moved from Moorhead to Fergus Falls remained the only billboard the state chamber has, said group spokeswoman Carissa Richter.

Godfread said the suggestion in the release that the campaign would involve multiple billboards could have been "poor wording" and reiterated that the sign was moved as planned.

"We're not going to apologize for North Dakota doing well," he said.

Minnesota hurt itself this year by increasing the income tax rate on top earners, Godfread said.

Jeff Frider, a Moorhead Business Association member who serves on the city's Economic Development Authority, said he doesn't want to have an "us vs. them" attitude, but he acknowledged North Dakota's success.

"We're seeing some growth as well, but it certainly doesn't compare with 20-some percent," he said. "I mean, that's extremely exceptional."

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