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New York Times article on economy became bad omen for North Dakota

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The New York Times ran a cover story on Dec. 5 touting North Dakota's apparent resistance to the economic crisis. The headline: "A placid North Dakota asks, recession? What recession?"

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A follow-up today could read, "North Dakota says, 'Oh, that recession.' "

Since the piece ran, the state has felt the economic pinch just like the rest of the country.

We can't say the Times led us to the bleak economic landscape, but "The Gray Lady" sure does seem a lot like Jessica Fletcher. The main character from "Murder, She Wrote" had a nasty habit of leaving a trail of dead bodies wherever she visited.

The piece, written by Monica Davey, detailed how North Dakota, and Fargo in particular, were holding relatively strong while other states struggled with the sluggish economy.

Davey's Peace Garden State portrait was a cautiously optimistic one, pointing out that while stoic Dakotans knew they had it better than folks in other states, in typical Midwestern humility, they were waiting for the worst.

That good news turned sour faster than a pile of sugar beats on a hot, sunny day, and the bad news started making headlines earlier this month.

In the original piece, Davey talked to Philip Christiansen, general manager at DMI Industries, a West Fargo manufacturer of wind towers. He said that despite the solid state of the North Dakota economy, "You're always a little worried. ... You get a tickle at the pit of your stomach."

That "tickle at the pit of (his) stomach" turned out to be a punch to the gut when DMI laid off 60 employees one month after the piece ran.

In the Times' story, Katie Hasbargen, spokeswoman on Fargo's Microsoft campus, discussed a multimillion-dollar building expansion and addition to the 1,000-plus work force.

On Friday, Hasbargen was in this paper saying severance benefits will be available to the estimated 40 or more Microsoft Fargo employees laid off Thursday. The expansion is still going forward, but the $6.13 million in property tax breaks tied to a promise of adding 207 jobs is now in question.

The Times story, which some locals saw as spreading the good word, now looks like a visit from the Angel of Death, or at least a harbinger of sorrow. Just about everything Davey touched on has been dealt a blow.

Has anyone in Bismarck checked on our $1.2 billion budget surplus to make sure it hasn't blown away? Has anyone in Williston checked on the pools of underground oil to make sure they haven't dried up, or been sucked up by Montana or Canada?

Of course, Davey is not to blame for the job cuts. Her piece stated that it was a matter of time until some hardship hit the state.

And she seems to know something about the area. The Chicago-based journalist puts in her time and by-lines here.

I just hope on her next trip through the state, people still talk to her. Wary Dakotans may not want to see their name in "All the news that's fit to print," fearing it will be an obit.

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