Friday, March 23, 2012

Economic Tall Tales

The Marcellus Shale is often cited as the cause for Pittsburgh's stellar job growth. A similar turnaround is now anticipated in Ohio thanks to the Utica Shale play. But the poster child for the shale rush is North Dakota and the Bakken:

The national media has credited the oil boom for the economic growth. The economic benefits of the energy boom have spread across the region, but there is more to the story. While the entire region trailed the nation in job growth until 2007, the region’s five largest metropolitan areas – Bismarck, Grand Forks, Fargo, Sioux Falls and Rapid City – were well ahead of the nation through the entire decade. Now containing 39 percent of the regional jobs, these five metropolitan areas beat the nation in job growth over the decade by 10 points, 15.8 to 5.8 percent.

Like Pittsburgh, these metros in the Northern Plains were headed in the right direction before workers started streaming in from all over the country to get at the oil. The talent shortage story there is much more than extraction related. All booms eventually bust. The same problems will remain:

Ultimately, the talent narrative in the region needs to shift away from “retaining our young people” towards recruitment of young families. Demographic data confirms the greatest shortage across the region is those age 35 - 44, and employers are reporting troubles recruiting mid-career professionals. Migration data shows that the net loss from North and South Dakota to the Minneapolis region has stopped in the past two years. The Prairie Business region is showing signs of turning the economic and demographic corner. It is now time to act to sustain the region’s long-term future.

Emphasis added. The brain drain hysteria has a lot in common with the energy jobs boom hyperbole. Both make for great political sound bites. Before shale gas, Pittsburgh was Shittsburgh. Everyone was leaving town. Before shale oil, North Dakota was a frozen wasteland where people talked funny. No one would move there. Mesofacts continue to hold both regions back.

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