Waiters rank second only to cabdrivers for the title of Lazy Journalist’s Best Friend, and in my defense I can only say that (a) I’m really more of an editor than a journalist and (b) I’m posting on vacation, so you can’t call me lazy.
Anyway, the very nice man who delivered our Cornbread Benedict and Meat Lover’s Skillet in the coffee shop of our truck-stop hotel (in which we were the only customers at 8:45 a.m.; truckers start work early) said Fargo is booming, and what it needs most is workers. “You could walk down the street and go into any business and they’ll hire you on the spot,” he said. “There was a store up the road from here that was doing really well but they had to shut down because they just couldn’t staff it. You hear lots of stories like that.”
This isn’t the boom-and-bust oil economy of western North Dakota; it’s based on solid industries such as food processing, transportation, and health care. As our helpful waiter explained, “Starting salaries are several dollars above the minimum wage [which is $7.25 an hour], and the cost of living is very affordable.” From a traveler’s standpoint, the only downside is that when you ask a waiter or hotel worker or shop clerk for directions, or to recommend a place to visit or eat, they all say, “Sorry, I’m not from this area.” And there’s nothing new about this; at the absolute depth of the post-2008 recession, Fargo’s unemployment shot up all the way to 4.5 percent.
To be sure, free-market efficiency can be adhered to too religiously, and “creative destruction” is a harsh prescription when it’s a community that’s being destroyed. So I’m not telling Rust Belters that they should pack up and move. But if anyone from a faltering town is looking for a place to start fresh, Fargo is worth a visit.