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Monday, November 26, 2007

North Dakota, Population Loss, and Immigration

North Dakota is not exactly a hot spot.

From 2000 to 2006, only two states actually lost population. One was Louisiana, which is not surprising given Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The other was North Dakota, with a decline of almost one percent. Neighboring South Dakota grew by 3.5 percent, and the overall U.S. by 6.1 percent.

On the SBE Council Small Business Survival Index 2007, North Dakota ranked a respectable, though far from stellar 20th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Index ranks the states according to their public policy climates for entrepreneurship. There’s obviously room for improvement, especially given the fact that South Dakota ranked best in the nation, deriving big benefits from not imposing any personal income, individual capital gains, corporate income and corporate capital gains taxes.

A cover story in the November 26 USA Today (“North Dakota’s aging face: Can a culture resist change?”) is worth reading as well. It is a fairly balanced piece about the shortage of people and workers in North Dakota, coupled with a resistance among some resident to change via immigration. A couple of points are worth highlighting from the piece:

• “Attitudes along the nation's northern tier indicate that the level of anger about illegal immigration has little to do with firsthand experience. Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, North Dakota ranks 48th in terms of its percentage of foreign-born population. Montana ranks 49th.

“Yet in the month before a bipartisan effort to overhaul the nation's immigration policy collapsed last June, Montana's junior senator was inundated with calls opposing the plan, which would have offered an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship.

“‘I got more comments in one month (on the immigration bill) than I did in a whole year on Iraq,’ Tester says.”

• “Some strategists argue that lawmakers are overreacting to a vocal minority. ‘They have a megaphone from one side stuck in their ear,’ says Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster who has worked for groups advocating immigration changes that include a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.”

The article also noted that the state received a 10-year federal grant in 1999 to boost jobs and stem population loss. Surprise, surprise -- that hasn’t worked too well.

Here are a couple of obvious ideas for North Dakota to embrace. First, dramatically reduce the tax and regulatory burden in the state to make North Dakota a far more attractive place to live, work, and invest in and start up a business.

Second, embrace anyone willing to come to the state to live and work, including immigrants. The state’s members of Congress should be leading the way in supporting legislation that will not only secure our borders, but expand legal avenues for immigration for those willing to work and make a positive contribution to our country. After all, if any place needs immigrants, it’s North Dakota.

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