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Published August 08, 2009, 09:20 PM

Live Longer — Move to N.D.

As usual, being all-knowing, I have the answer for the strategy to keep North Dakota’s population soaring. I even have the slogan: “Live Longer — Move to North Dakota.” Statistics show that North Dakotans live longer than the average American. Based on the latest numbers, North Dakotans will live an average of a whopping 77.6 years.

By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald

North Dakota has made modest population gains in recent years, mostly because of immigrating oil patch workers.

Eventually, the oil boom will end, and the repopulation of our rectangular slice of heaven will end with it. So, state leaders shouldn’t get complacent and rest on their laurels (and barrels). Instead, they need a plan to recapture two-legged creatures when oil goes bust, as it’s certain to do now that Dick Cheney is no longer in charge.

As usual, being all-knowing, I have the answer for the strategy to keep North Dakota’s population soaring. I even have the slogan: “Live Longer — Move to North Dakota.”

Statistics show that North Dakotans live longer than the average American. Based on the latest numbers, North Dakotans will live an average of a whopping 77.6 years.

Nationally, the number is a measly 76.5 years.

Now, living 1.1 years longer than the average citizen might not seem like much to some readers, especially those younger 40. But us 57-year-olds regard 1.1 years as an important difference.

And 76.5-year-olds really see it as significant.

So, let’s spread the word now, before we have to tell lies about our mosquito population.

When outsiders hear word of our longevity, I know where most of these imports will go. They’ll head to Pembina County, which is in the state’s northeastern corner, snug up against Minnesota and Manitoba.

It may surprise you that Pembina County would be a destination place. After all, it has lost 14 percent of its population since 2000.

To prove my point, I point to the same research that pinpointed the state’s life expectancy. The numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say Pembina is among the 23 counties in the country with the fewest reported sick days.

People were asked for the average number of unhealthy days they had in the past month. Pembina residents had just 3.3 such days, compared with the national average of 6.0.

Again, this may be surprising because Pembina, like many rural counties, has a high percentage of elderly. As I can attest, advancing age means fewer feel-good days. You wouldn’t suspect a county with 20 percent of its population 65 and older to be feeling that spry.

To unfold this mystery, I contacted two people familiar with the county. Jeanne Chaput is the administrator for the county’s public health department, and Shari Hanson is in charge of the Chamber of Commerce and economic development in Cavalier, the county seat.

“People in this area generally are healthy,” Chaput said. “They’re health conscious and make good choices, so I’m not real surprised.”

The county is a stress-free zone, in her view. “We have a lot to offer — affordable housing, taxes held in line, a state park nearby, movie theater, skating rink, bus plant, sugar factory and so on. And people here care about you.”

Next up in beating the county’s drum is Hanson:

“We have clean air, lots of space and we’re not crowded at all. Our entertainment is usually something outside. The food is great, too.”

But the civic leaders concede that it might be the stoic North Dakota talking.

“The people around here don’t complain much,” Chaput said. “Sometimes, they don’t feel good, but just do what needs to be done.”

Hanson heard similar thoughts from FEMA workers who came to the area this year because of flooding. “A FEMA lady said she wasn’t getting many people asking for help,” she said. “She said that people up here just kind of take care of things themselves.”

So, maybe that’s another reason to move to Pembina County. Not only will you live longer in this state, but you also have to listen to less bitching.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com.

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