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Williston, N.D., tops Fargo in taxable sales and purchases

Imperial Cass has met its match.

Williston surpassed Fargo in taxable sales and purchases by $100 million in 2011, a report released Thursday shows.

Tax Commissioner Cory Fong called the victory of the oil city over the state's largest city "the big news of this report."

Fargo's total was $2.4 billion compared to Williston's $2.5 billion. Williston had 88.5 percent growth from 2010 to 2011, compared to Fargo's 10 percent.

"That doesn't mean that Fargo is trailing," Fong said. "It's so strong for these western communities like Williston."

The story of North Dakota's envious economy just keeps getting bigger, with all of the state's largest cities contributing to eye-popping growth.

The state's taxable sales and purchases increased 39 percent from 2010 to 2011 to more than $19 billion.

North Dakota had double-digit increases in recent years, but "certainly nothing that rivals 40 percent," Fong said Thursday.

"This is big," he said. "Almost 40 percent is record-setting for the last several years for sure."

The 2011 annual report includes taxable sales and purchases statistics for the largest 200 cities in the state, of which 162 cities reported increases and 38 reported decreases compared to 2010.

Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot reported growth ranging from 8 percent in Grand Forks to 39.7 percent in Minot. These four cities increased taxable sales and purchases by $6.582 billion over 2010.

Although the growth in Grand Forks and Fargo doesn't look as strong when compared to Minot, their growth is significant, Fong said.

"Those are very strong numbers for those communities," he said.

Dickinson saw 52 percent growth in 2011 taxable sales and purchases, while Jamestown had 16 percent. Ray, which is about 35 miles from Williston, led the percentage growth of all cities with an increase of 635 percent over 2010.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the reports are further proof that North Dakota's economy continues to grow and diversify.

"Confidence is strong throughout the state, including communities far from the oil fields," he said.

During October, November and December 2011, North Dakota's taxable sales and purchases were $6.155 billion, up $2.014 billion, or 48.6 percent, compared to the fourth quarter of 2010.

People have money to spend because the economy is strong, Fong said. There was statewide growth in every industry sector but one in 2011, he said. The educational, health care and social services sector declined 5.4 percent.

Retail trade, the largest sector in terms of dollars, grew by 14.4 percent when comparing 2011 to 2010, or more than four times the rate of inflation.

"Consumer confidence is very strong," Fong said. "That's that sector of the economy that reflects discretionary income, and people feel good about things. They're spending money. They're shopping."

The Tax Department reports are "great news" and speak to the strength of the state, said Andy Peterson, president of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.

The state's tax, legal and regulatory environment creates a place where businesses can thrive, expand and diversify, Peterson said. The state is lucky to have the oil industry to contribute to the economy, but other industries are also doing well, he said.

"The state seems to have everything in a groove, and I think we should be very, very proud of that," he said.

Fourteen of 15 industries reported growth in 2011. Mining and oil extraction was up 98.4 percent; financial, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing was up 95.4 percent and transportation and warehousing was up 83.1 percent.

Wholesale trade was up 50 percent; construction was up 42.7 percent; manufacturing was up 39.7 percent; accommodation and food services were 15.5 percent and retail trade was up 14.4 percent.

Professional, scientific, technical and management services were up 5.3 percent; arts, entertainment, and recreation were up 5 percent; utilities was up 1.5 percent and information industries was up 1.4 percent.

The full reports are available on the Tax Department's website at


(Teri Finneman writes for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead)