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North Dakota continues to attract young professionals

Dane Towery considered joining a couple of his friends in moving to the Minneapolis area after graduating from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks last spring. Instead, he returned to his hometown of Minot. He’s glad he did.

“They are still looking for jobs down there. They can’t find anything right now,” said Towery, 24, who landed a job as business loan officer at Town & Country Credit Union in Minot.

The North Dakota Department of Commerce and young adults themselves cite jobs as a major factor behind census figures showing that North Dakota has a larger proportion of its population 9.1 percent in the 20- to 24-year-old age category than any other state. That census statistic helped earn North Dakota top honors as the best state for young adults in study by MoneyRates.com, a banking website.

After North Dakota, the next best states chosen by MoneyRates.com, in order, are South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Utah.

The study sought to determine where 20- to 24-year-olds have the best shot at thriving in today’s economy. According to the report, the premise was that “a young adult starting out would benefit from a place with plenty of opportunity, reasonable living costs and just enough lifestyle amenities to keep things interesting.”

The study analyzed key lifestyle factors, including demographics, youth unemployment, college costs, car insurance rates, rental housing cost and availability, night life, fitness facilities and high-speed Internet availability.

“It’s not exactly a glamour spot, but North Dakota is attracting young people,” the report noted. “It now has a higher proportion of people age 18-24 than any other state. Having the lowest youth unemployment rate helps, but what may surprise you is that North Dakota also has more bars, pubs and nightclubs per capita than any state besides Wisconsin.”

Towery, whose pastimes include hunting, refereeing football and occasionally going to the YMCA, said he finds plenty to do and is comfortable being in Minot.

“I grew up liking the town. I never really thought of Minot as a negative place to be,” he said.

Minot native McKenna Larson, 23, business assistant at Ackerman-Estvold Engineering and Management Consulting, said she thought about leaving North Dakota multiple times. Her decision to stay was influenced by college costs. The most affordable option for her was attending Minot State University.

After investigating other cities outside the state and visiting some, she has come to realize that what counts isn’t the number of amenities but the people, she said.

“Now I truly appreciate everything Minot has to offer. For me, it’s the perfect size,” she said.

Larson said what most young adults zero in on when looking at locations are good jobs and affordable housing. She began working for Ackerman-Estvold at age 18, which led to a current job with the company that she believes is better than she could get if she went elsewhere.

Towery and Larson said many of their high school classmates have chosen to take jobs close to home as well, either in Minot or in places like Bismarck, Fargo or the oil fields.

“I just think there’s so much opportunity in the state that you don’t have to go out of state to find employment and find good jobs,” Towery said.

Al Anderson, commissioner in the state Commerce Department, said it is enjoyable to see the state recognized for its opportunities after many years of struggling with youth exodus. It’s a turnaround that has been occurring since about the year 2000, he said.

“We knew we were getting younger. We are actually one of only four states in the entire U.S. that is getting younger,” he said.

It isn’t just the 20- to 24-year-old age group that’s growing. Anderson said the state is seeing increasing numbers of residents in age categories younger than 35.

“It’s driven in a large part by the oil industry in the west, but I think the biggest driver is really our unemployment and our job opportunities across the state,” he said.

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