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Three North Dakota counties among nation's 15 highest-paid

FARGO - The boom in the state's Oil Patch and strong farm prices have given a big boost to personal incomes in North Dakota, putting per capita pay in some places on par with the most famously rich counties in the U.S.

Three western North Dakota counties - Williams, Billings and LaMoure - posted average personal incomes in 2011 that place them sixth ($81,170), 11th ($76,798), and 14th ($74,875), respectively among the nation's 3,113 counties, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The data places incomes in Williams County just behind those in Arlington County in Virginia - a well-heeled Washington suburb.

Half of the top 10 North Dakota counties for per capita income - Williams, Billings, McKenzie, Mountrail and Dunn, are in or near the Oil Patch.

Those counties saw aggressive growth between 2009 and 2011, the BEA reports. Williams grew an average of 44.3 percent per year, Billings 44.7 percent per year, McKenzie 33.8 percent, Mountrail 30.6 percent and Dunn 35.3 percent.

But there was also significant income growth in the eastern third of North Dakota, thanks, at least in part, to rising farm prices.

Southeastern North Dakota's LaMoure County had higher per-capita income than San Francisco in 2011, at $74,875. It grew by an average of 26.7 percent per year between 2009 and 2011.

Cavalier County posted per capita income of $71,812, with growth averaging 22.5 percent annually between 2009 and 2011.

Al Anderson, North Dakota's commerce commissioner, said the state has had a great run since 2000, thanks in large part to a multi-pronged strategy that focused not only on agriculture and energy, but on manufacturing and tourism to broaden the economy.

From the year 2000 to 2010, North Dakota saw a 78 percent increase in personal income, Anderson said.

In 2001, the state ranked 39th in the nation in per capita income. In May, the BEA announced that the state was ninth in the nation in personal income, Anderson said.

"It's a bigger story than just the oil industry," Anderson said, crediting state and local leaders for improving the state's business climate.

"It's interesting, because the strategy is changing from just creating jobs, to now the discussions are going to work force development and quality of life issues," Anderson said.

Cass County, long an economic driver in North Dakota thanks to its position as a regional manufacturing, health care, education and retail hub, posted an average annual income of $45,602 in 2011, with growth average 7.2 percent between 2009 and 2011, BEA figures show.

North Dakota's per capita income in 2011 was $47,236, up more than 11 percent from 2009.

Minnesota posted per capita income of $44,560 in 2011, with average annual growth of nearly 5 percent between 2009 and 2011.

Clay County posted a per capital income of $35,448 in 2011, ranking it 66th among Minnesota's 87 counties. Clay County saw average annual growth of 5.1 percent between 2009 and 2011, BEA reported

Nationally, per capita income in 2011 was $41,560. Average incomes ranged from $121,301 in New York County (Manhattan), N.Y., to $16,752 in Crowley County, Colo., the BEA reported

Much of North Dakota's economic growth came from the oil boom. The state's oil output passed Alaska in May to make it the No. 2 oil-producing state in the nation, trailing only Texas, as companies race to exploit oil and gas deposits in the Bakken shale formation.

Personal income rose in 3,062 of the nation's 3,113 counties in 2011, with growth ranging from 62.2 percent in King County, Texas, to the 28.8 percent drop in Lynn County, Texas, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which is run by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Of the 50 counties with the fastest growth, 45 were located in the Plains states. Of those 45 counties, 41 were in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, the BEA reported.

Increases in farm income were a big factor in growth in most of the Plains counties, BEA reported.

Personal income rose in 2011 in all of the nation's 366 metro areas for the first time since 2007, the BEA reported.

Personal income growth in metro areas ranged from 14.8 percent in Odessa, Texas, to 1 percent in Rochester, Minn.