North Dakota’s government can claim many firsts at the moment – not only did the state have the fastest rate of economic growth last year of all 50 US states, the lowest unemployment at 4.2%, and was the only state to create a significant number of jobs – but it also leads the nation in the production of honey, edible beans and is the biggest producer of beef in the country.

“We have more cows than people,” jokes North Dakota’s governor, John Hoeven, who is the longest-serving governor in the US. In a state with a population of just over 640,000 and more than 2.5 million head of cattle, Mr Hoeven’s quip happens to be a fact.

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But that is where the joke ends. Because the state has impressively ridden out the storm of the global recession, foreign investors have come knocking thanks to initiatives such as the tax incentives for troubled companies paid for with a $700m budget surplus.

In September a delegation from Taiwan came to the US and made an agreement to purchase 1.7 million metric tonnes of wheat, two-thirds of which is coming from North Dakota. They have also asked the state to look into developing a strain of hard white spring wheat that can then be exported for noodle and bread production in Asia. “Those are the kinds of partnerships we are hoping to build,” says Mr Hoeven.

Business-friendly environment

Mr Hoeven believes there are several factors that set his state apart from others. “We are working very hard to build a friendly business environment, so that from a tax, legal and regulatory standpoint it is a good place to do business,” he says. “And we are responsive so that if a company is trying to accomplish something, we are willing to work with it as long as there is a mutual benefit.”

North Dakota, which has been one of the most proactive states in using a combination of energy sources including wind, oil, biofuels and coal, has used this as an appealing lure to potential clients. Spanish company Acciona, one of the largest wind developers in the world, has constructed several wind farms in the state.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s biofuels company Inbicon has invested in Spiritwood Energy Park. The $350m project – located in Jamestown – will be home to a coal-fired electric power plant, which uses new technology that burns low-emissions coal, a malting barley plant and a second-generation ethanol plant. “Since we are using and producing in biomass, biofuels, winds and coal, it is those factors that make North Dakota a very good place to invest,” says Mr Hoeven.

United Pulse Trading, a Canadian lentil and pea-splitting company, has built a $7.5m factory in North Dakota that is now the largest chickpea processing plant in North America, while other agro-business companies such as the Netherlands’ Case New Holland and South Korea’s Bobcat have also invested in the state. “We have had FDI before, but it is now becoming broader-based in terms of farm equipment, the advanced manufacturing sector, the energy sector, the agriculture sector,” says Mr Hoeven. “So I would say we have definitely become more diversified.”

Curriculum Vitae

John Hoeven

2000North Dakota state government

Governor

1993Bank of North Dakota

President and CEO

1981First Western Bank

Banker