High-tech homesteading may slow population decline

North Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 2000  | October 2000 issue

North Dakota is beginning a project that could take years of work, but in the long run have a positive impact on the state's population and economy.

The brainchild of the Jamestown-based South Central Dakota Regional Council, the 21st Century Homesteading Act's goal is to lure 2,500 foreign high-tech workers to nine rural North Dakota counties. It is anticipated that these workers will attract high-tech companies to the region and reverse the downward trend in population and boost local economies.

From 1980 to 1990 these nine counties lost between 8 percent and 16 percent of their residents. This is roughly the equivalent of the Fargo-Moorhead area losing 15,000 to 20,000 residents.

The plan is for workers to receive H-1B visas, which are good for six years. Currently, 115,000 H-1B visas are granted annually throughout the country for foreign workers with highly specialized training and skills. Previously, only 65,000 of these visas were issued each year, but Congress raised the limit for a four-year period in 1998 to meet a labor shortage in the high-tech industry.