Trump's Praise Of This Potential VP Pick Could Be A Little Overdone

When North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum dropped out of the presidential race in January after a poor finish in Iowa, Donald Trump praised him glowingly, saying he hoped he could use him in a future administration and calling him “one of the best governors in our country.”

Now, as Trump is looking for a potential running mate, Burgum’s name is being increasingly bandied about, in part because he has money ― he’s the candidate who offered to send contributors $20 gift cards for $1 donations so he could qualify for the televised debates ― and his low-key personality is seen as a comfortable contrast to Trump’s bombast.

But, as with past national nominees who have been governors, if he is picked, his record as governor will be scrutinized — and, on the economic front at least, Trump’s praise may seem overdone.

The number of jobs in North Dakota is below what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic began, even as employment nationally has rebounded sharply. And the pace of the state’s post-pandemic growth has lagged the national economy as well, held back by reliance on energy and agriculture, two boom-and-bust industries.

While Trump has mostly kept mum on his VP prospects, Burgum was on stage with the former president at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club last weekend with several other potential rivals for the spot, including Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio).

Republicans have been hammering the White House over inflation, helping drive down President Joe Biden’s approval rating on the economy to only 39% in a recent Economist/YouGov poll. Picking someone potentially vulnerable on the economy could make that argument tougher, though, and weigh against a Burgum choice.

A Burgum spokesman told HuffPost the state’s economy has performed well recently and the governor has taken steps to try to diversify the economy.

On the jobs front, in February 2020, just before COVID-19 hit, North Dakota had about 440,400 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More than four years later, in March, the latest month for which pdata are available, it had 439,600 jobs, a slight decline from the pre-pandemic level.

The state also saw only a 0.1% compound annual economic growth rate between the first quarter of 2020 and the fourth quarter of 2023, according to the latest numbers from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The United States as a whole saw a 2.5% compound annual growth rate in the same period.

One possible reason for the difficulties: The frenzied drive for energy exploration in the state’s northwestern sector, where the oil-rich Bakken geologic formation is located, has ended, replaced by a stable but unexciting level of activity.

“Oil has been changing its employment profile,” said David Flynn, a professor of economics and finance at the University of North Dakota, at a conference sponsored by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank in January.

Advancements in drilling technology, like horizontally-drilled wells and fracking, set off a new oil boom in the late 2000s in the Bakken field, which is shared by North Dakota, Montana and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

At one point, according to the Minneapolis Fed, eventhe region’s volunteer firefighting stations were under pressure; as many new oil workers came to live in the area, emergency calls increased,making it harder for the firefighters to hold down their regular jobs.

North Dakota’s oil production went from around 10 million barrels a month in 2011 to more than 45 million just before the pandemic struck. But since then, production has been stuck at about 35 million barrels monthly.

The maturation of the oil field has made the region less alluring to workers and has made attracting residents to the state — already the fourth smallest by population, with 784,000 residents in 2023 — more difficult.

The three counties in the state most associated with Bakken-related activity led the state in population loss, as the state suffered a net out-migration of residents, Flynn said.

“We’re losing more people out of the state the last year or so than we’re getting in,” he said. In his presentation, Flynn said the state faced the prospect of leaving some economic growth “on the table” because of a lack of workers.

Despite the headwinds, the state’s economy has some bright spots.

It had the lowest unemployment rate of any state in the nation, at 2.0% in March, according to the Labor Department, just below neighboring South Dakota’s 2.1%.

Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for Burgum, noted in an email the state’s labor force participation rate (the proportion of residents 16 or older working or looking for work) was the second-highest in the nation in March, at 68.9%. That’s well above the overall U.S. rate, which was at 62.7% in April.

Nowatzki also pointed to the 5.9% year-over-year economic growth rate for the state in 2023, the highest of any state, and said the state’s population in 2023 was its highest on record.

As for diversification, Nowatzki said Burgum has supported the recruitment of data centers and drone and tourism companies while also seeing the state land new soybean-crushing plants, as well as a natural gas-to-liquids plant.

“The governor’s assessment would be that North Dakota’s economy is strong and only getting stronger,” Nowatzki said.