Fargo: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

The Fargo economy is based on education, the medical industry, agricultural equipment manufacturing, retailing, and services. The city is a retail magnet for the entire Upper Plains; its per capita retail spending is usually among the nation's highest because so many people from the region go to Fargo to do their shopping. Because of its central location, the city is a transportation hub for the northern Midwest region. Agriculture has long been of primary importance to Fargo, as the Red River Valley area contains some of the richest farmland in the world; related industries include agribusiness and agricultural research. However, in recent years, software companies have brought a touch of Silicon Valley to the area.

The principal manufacturing employer is Case I H, makers of heavy-duty tractors. Terminals for two oil pipeline systems—Standard Oil Company of Indiana and Great Lakes Pipeline Company of Oklahoma—are located in Fargo-Moorhead. The Standard Oil pipeline is connected with the company's refinery in Whiting, Indiana, which produces more than 30,000 barrels of oil a day.

Fargo has received many accolades for its economy and pro-business environment. In 2004, Business Development Outlook magazine ranked the Fargo-Moorhead area fifth on its list of "Best Places for a Thriving Economy." Also in 2004, Expansion Management magazine rated the area as one of the top places to locate a company, and Forbes magazine ranked it the second-best small city in the country for business and careers.

Items and goods produced: food, concrete, dairy and meat products, fur coats, jewelry, luggage, neon signs, electrical apparatus, sweet clover and sunflower seeds

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

Several incentive programs are available to businesses that locate or expand in Cass County; among them are property tax and income tax exemptions, an interest rate subsidy program, and loans of up to $8,000 at U.S. treasury rates. The Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead offers business services to its members, including an employee assistance program, group medical insurance, and seminars.

State programs

North Dakota's Economic Development & Finance Division assists businesses with start-up, expansion, and recruitment. Dakota Certified Development Company (CDC) administers the Small Business Administration 504 program in North Dakota. The program creates and retains jobs via the financing of real estate and equipment. The North Dakota Development fund provides secondary sources of funding to businesses through loans and equity investments.

Job training programs

Several state and federal programs assist in training or retraining workers. Workforce 2000 aids North Dakota employers in implementing new technologies and work methods. Under the Workforce 2000 program, the cost of employee training may be reimbursed. New Jobs Training provides financial assistance to businesses filling hourly job positions.

Economic Development Information: Fargo-Cass County Economic Development Corporation, 51 Broadway, Suite 500, Fargo, ND 58102; telephone (701)364-1900

Development Projects

In 1999, the North Dakota legislature established the Renaissance Zone program to encourage private sector investment in neglected areas. Approved projects are eligible for tax exemptions and credits. Fargo's Renaissance Zone, which encompasses 35 blocks of the downtown area, saw more than $200 million worth of development projects each year between 1999 and 2004. The downtown revitalization has included storefront rehabilitation, beautification and the conversion of unused buildings into commercial and residential space.

In 2002, MeritCare Health System began a five-year, $55 million renovation to the downtown MeritCare Medical Center campus. The first major renovation to the facility since the 1970s will see the expansion and renovation of the children's hospital, the conversion of most patient hospital rooms into private rooms, an addition to house the Heart Services department, and the construction of a two-tier parking facility.

Commercial Shipping

Fargo is served by the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad, which has its Dakota Division headquarters in Fargo; the average daily number of trains is 60. More than 120 regional, national, and international truck lines serve Cass County, transport products, machinery, and bulk commodities to and from Fargo.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Fargo has become a resettling point for Bosnians, Somalis, Sudanese, and others who have joined Fargo's labor force. Fargo boasts a well-educated labor force that has been shown to be 20 percent more productive than the national average. A strong Midwestern work ethic contributes to a low absentee rate, and over half of Cass County businesses have a turnover rate of 5 percent or less. In 2003, more than 80 percent of Fargo's workforce held high school diplomas. North Dakota is a right to work state. In February of 2005 Fargo's unemployment rate was just under 4 percent; an unemployment rate of 3 percent or less is considered full employment.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area labor force, 2004 annual average.

Size of non-agricultural labor force: 109,600

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 6,500

manufacturing: 8,900

trade, transportation, and utilities: 24,900

information: 3,200

financial activities: 8,100

professional and business services: 10,300

educational and health services: 15,600

leisure and hospitality: 11,100

other services: 4,900 government: 16,100

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $13.90

Unemployment rate: 3.8% (February 2005)

Fargo: Economy

Fargo: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
MeritCare Health System 6,100
North Dakota State University 3,391
Fargo Public School District Number One 1,320
Dakota Clinic, Ltd. 1,200
Microsoft 960
US Bank Service Center 925
City of Fargo 750
Innovis Health 740

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Fargo is well below the national average.

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors in the Fargo area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $228,990

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 90.4 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: Ranges from 2.67% to 12.0%

State sales tax rate: 5.0% (food and prescription drugs are exempt)

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: 1.5%

Property tax rate: 484.06 mills for School District #1; 418.53 mills for School District #6 (2004). An individual property's annual property tax is determined by multiplying the taxable value by that year's mill levy. An assessment ratio of 50% is multiplied by the Assessor's appraisal to get assessed value. Then, the assessed value is multiplied by 9% for residential and 10% for all other property classes to get taxable value. Therefore, the taxable value of residential property is 4.5% of the Asses-sor's estimate of value and 5% of the Assessor's value for commercial and agricultural property.

Economic Information: Fargo-Cass County Economic Development Corporation, 51 Broadway, Suite 500, Fargo, ND 58102; telephone (701)364-1900