ND taxable sales rocket by 38 percent in summer

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Jeff Hinz, owner of the Kirkwood Ace Hardware store in Bismarck, N.D., speaks near a bar chart illiustrating the growth in North Dakota's taxable sales and purchases during July, August and September of 2011 during a news conference on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011, at the hardware store. North Dakota's Tax Department reported Wednesday that the state's taxable sales and purchases jumped 38.6 percent during the quarter, and North Dakota Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, who held a news conference at the hardware store Wednesday, says numbers for the Christmas shopping season also look strong. Hinz said his business volume has tripled in the last five years. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's taxable sales and purchases jumped 38 percent during July, August and September, rising to almost $5.5 billion during the quarter, Tax Commissioner Cory Fong said Wednesday.

Fong called the results "truly remarkable."

He and Mike Rud, president of the North Dakota Retail Association, said preliminary data also point to strong sales during the Christmas shopping season.

"We're in a period of unprecedented growth, there's no question about that," Rud said. "Now it's almost like all these (economic) sectors have come together, and we've created a supercharged economic engine here."

Fong credited some of the growth spurt to North Dakotans buying supplies to rebuild from last spring's widespread flooding, and to continued prosperity in western North Dakota's oil and gas industry.

Tax Department statistics, however, show economic strength statewide. Forty-six of North Dakota's 53 counties registered growth in taxable sales and purchases during the quarter, when compared to the same three months in 2010.

"We focus a lot these days, because of mining and oil extraction, on our western communities, but there are communities out east that did very well." Fong said.

The most explosive growth is coming from western North Dakota's oil-producing region. Taxable sales and purchases more than doubled during the quarter in Mountrail, Williams and Burke counties in northwestern North Dakota.

The city of Williston, where the official population count last year was pegged at 14,716, had more taxable sales and purchases during the quarter than Fargo, with a population of more than 105,000. Williston recorded $721.9 million in taxable sales and purchases during July, August and September, 10.3 percent more than Fargo's $654.5 million.

The two largest components of state taxable sales and purchases — wholesale trade and retail trade — both rose steeply. Wholesale trade jumped 43.5 percent during the quarter, to $1.23 billion, while retail trade rose 17.2 percent, to $1.43 billion.

Fong held a news conference at a Bismarck hardware store on Wednesday to discuss the report. Its owner, Jeff Hinz, said that since he moved the business into a larger south Bismarck building five years ago, his sales have tripled.

His sales rose 19 percent in July, August and September, even though a lack of snowfall has weakened demand for snowblowers and power equipment, he said.

"An easy way for me to track traffic and success is just something like our keys. How many keys are we cutting?" Hinz said in an interview. "If that's up, traffic is up. It's a good, quick barometer."