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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Booming North Dakota

Michael Barone
No political or governmental leader can forecast the future.

This is a tale of two cities. No, not Dickens’s phlegmatic London and passionate Paris. Nor the two neighborhoods Charles Murray contrasted in his recent bestseller Coming Apart — prosperous but isolated Belmont (Mitt Romney’s home for decades) and needy and disorganized Fishtown.

These two cities have names you may not recognize, but which you have probably read about in the last few years: Fremont and Williston.

Fremont is the southernmost city in California’s East Bay, just around the corner from (well, a few freeway exits away from) Silicon Valley.

It’s not as upscale as Palo Alto or Cupertino, but it has its own distinctions. It was the site of the NUMMI plant where General Motors and Toyota collaborated for years, but that closed in April 2010. It’s the site of the California School for the Deaf.

It has a large minority population; about half the city’s residents were Asian in 2010, with many Filipinos, Chinese, and Indians, and a smaller number of Hispanics. Politically, it’s Democratic territory: Fremont voted 71 to 27 percent for Barack Obama over John McCain.

Near to glamorous Silicon Valley, with lower rents, it seemed ideal for what the Obama Democrats were convinced would be the green-energy business of the future, the manufacture of solar panels. Just the place for green jobs!

So Fremont is the site of the gleaming headquarters of Solyndra, the solar-panel firm promoted by an Obama megacontributor, which got a $535 million loan guarantee from Obama’s stimulus package.

But the wave of the future turned out to be a stagnant puddle. Solyndra went bankrupt. Meanwhile, Fremont, like most of coastal California, has had continual outmigration to other states and has grown only due to immigrants. It grew only 6 percent between 2000 and 2011.

If the Obama folks back in 2009 thought Fremont was the harbinger of America’s future, one wonders what thoughts they had, if any, about Williston, N.D.

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