Keep the Heck Out of Dodge

By Jim Whitt

The Associated Press keeps a running Economic Stress Index which measures economic strain across the United States. They recently published a list of the 20 most and least economically stressed counties with populations of at least 25,000 and their March 2010 Stress scores.

Let’s compare the most economically stressed county, Imperial County in California with the least economically stressed county, Ford County in Kansas. The indicators AP uses are unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

Stress Index 31.27 4.07
Unemployment 27.0% 3.5%
Foreclosure 4.59% 0.01%
Bankruptcy 1.32% 0.58%

As AP states on their website, “As things get worse the Economic Stress Index score goes up. As things get better the score goes down.” In many ways the two counties are similar, so why are they on opposite ends of AP’s stress index? Well, let me put this as simply and tactfully as I can. Imperial County is in California and Ford County is in Kansas. Please do not think that I have anything against the good people of California. I have many friends there. But 12 of the 20 most economically stressed counties are in California.  Eighteen of the 20 least economically stressed counties are in Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Iowa.

Last week I quoted Abraham Maslow: “The difference between the great and good societies and the regressing, deteriorating societies is largely in terms of the entrepreneurial opportunity and the number of such people in the society.”

In which counties do you think the entrepreneurial spirit has the best opportunity to survive? Do you think the people in Ford County are more entrepreneurial than the people in Imperial County? Absolutely not. California is rich in human and natural resources but its bureaucracy and social policies are choking the life out of the entrepreneurial spirit. If you moved Imperial County to Kansas and Ford County to California, their Economic Stress Indexes would flip.

I can personally validate AP’s findings. One of my best clients is headquartered in Dodge City, Ford County’s most populous community, so I spend a lot of time there. Dodge is no longer a frontier town but it’s never lost its frontier spirit. The frontier spirit and the entrepreneurial spirit are kindred spirits. That’s why Ford County is the least economically stressed county in the nation. The folks out there are determined to keep it that way. And I’ve got a bit of advice for any bureaucrats, politicians or anyone else who tries to change it. Keep the heck out of Dodge.

Editor’s Note: For list of the 20 most and least economically stressed counties with populations of at least 25,000 and their March 2010 Stress scores go to: For the Associated Press Economic Stress Index go to:

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