Devils Lake businesses struggling with more jobs than workers
DEVILS LAKE — Nine people showed up for a recent job fair co-hosted by North Dakota Job Service and Pizza Ranch, a restaurant here.
“We hired two of them,” said Paul Malarkey, the general manager of the pizzeria, which currently employs about 20 mostly part-time workers. “I could use another 15 or so.”
Pizza Ranch isn’t alone. Like companies throughout North Dakota, businesses in Devils Lake Basin are struggling to find enough help to meet their needs.
One day this past week, Job Service’s website showed 674 job openings in the five-county area served by the Devils Lake regional office. That same website indicated just 243 people registered as looking for work.
“There’s plenty of jobs and not enough people to fill them,” said Randi Anfinson, a consultant with Job Service in Devils Lake. “It’s a wage earners’ market. For companies hiring, the quality of individual you’re getting depends on the wage.”
Leading the way here has been Wal-Mart Stores, which is adding about 85 employees as it moves into its new store.
By offering $10-an-hour jobs, it’s been forcing many other area businesses, including grocery and other retail stores, to match the wages to keep the staff they have, according to Anfinson.
“If you have no job skills, you can find a $10-an-hour job,” he said. “We get calls from construction companies, remodelers. They say ‘Send me someone who is going to show up every day.’ It’s the same with farm jobs.”
Officially, Ramsey County has an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, as of June 23, the latest available report. Other counties in the five-county region served by the Devils Lake office are: Benson, 6.6 percent; Cavalier, 2.8 percent; Eddy, 5 percent; and Towner, 3.4 percent.
Those rates compare with a statewide jobless rate of 2.4 percent and a national rate of 6.1 percent.
To find more help, Pizza Ranch recently raised its starting wage from $8.50 an hour to $10, to match Wal-Mart. Still, it is struggling to fill positions as servers, cooks and drivers.
Only nine of the 125 job listings that included starting wages on the Job Service website one day this past week paid less than $10 per hour.
“It’s tough to find quality applicants,” said Malarkey, a Devils Lake native who worked at Pizza Ranch before spending 5½ years in the U.S. Marine Corps and then returning to his hometown. “We’re in the customer service business. You can train someone how to put sauce on a pizza, but you can’t train personality.”
Some companies are offering higher wages.
Ultra Green, a new manufacturer of eco-friendly food-service products in Devils Lake, is offering $13 an hour for production workers, according to Job Service. The company is in the process of hiring about two dozen employees, to increase its workforce to 35 or 40 workers by the end of September and as many as 60 by December.
Walmart on track
At Wal-Mart, hiring has been going well, said Monica Griedl, the Devils Lake store manager.
“It’s a great mix of full time and part-time,” she said. “We have been very lucky. We are still hiring, but we have had a great applicant pool so far.”
The new Walmart Super Center is scheduled to open July 16 down the road from the existing store. When fully staffed, the new store will have about 200 full-and part-time workers, most of them moving over from the existing store.
Among the employees moving to the new store is Angie DeWall, an assistant manager who spent part of one day last week checking recently stocked shelves in the new store to correct anything that might have been out of place.
The Devils Lake native was one of Walmart’s original employees when it opened in Devils Lake in January 1992.
“I found it’s a good place to work, with good benefits, so I made Walmart a career,” she said.
Anfinson recalls a time not too many years ago when job listings were posted on cards pinned to a board inside the Job Service office.
“When a job came along they might be interested in, they’d write it down and leave,” he said. “The really good jobs, they’d take it off the board and stick it in their pocket.”
Today, Job Service’s website offers worldwide access to people interested in jobs in the Devils Lake area or North Dakota.
A recent summary of online views of Job Service’s website, NDWorkforceConnection.com, showed nearly 45,000 individual views in one week, including 184 from Europe, 151 from Asia and 118 from Oceania — Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific islands.
Job Service webpage views spike every time another news story is published or aired about the booming Oil Patch of western North Dakota. And that attracts more people to places all over the state, he said.
“We typically have an out-of-state car in our parking lot every week,” Anfinson said. “Some of them find something they like here. It’s an excellent opportunity for people looking for work. And if you’ve got marketable skills, you can make good money.”
Still, employers are searching for answers and quality workers.
“The situation in town is very tight,” said Malarkey, the Pizza Ranch manager. “Everybody’s looking for help. When you’re hiring, it’s almost like you’re poaching from somebody else.”