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Worker shortage regarded as biggest business concern in Grand Forks area

About 50 Grand Forks area business leaders met Thursday to discuss a workforce shortage, perhaps the biggest problem facing local businesses.

The panel, led by the local chamber of commerce, economic development corporation, the Northeast Dakota Area Human Resource Association and Job Service North Dakota, focused on generating ideas for how to recruit workers to the area, and what specific obstacles need to be addressed.

Keith Reitmeier, area manager for Job Service North Dakota, said there are 0.5 unemployed people per job opening in Grand Forks County, compared to a 0.6 ratio statewide.

“It isn’t just the western part of the state that’s hungry for workers, it’s all over the state” he said. Reitmeier said some employers are having a tough time finding workers with the right skills, but much of the problem has to do with simply not having enough people to fill positions.

North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.6 percent, while Grand Forks County sits at 2.9 percent. The state had more than 20,000 online job openings as of February, Job Service reported.

Among the recruitment obstacles attendees cited were a lack of affordable housing. Jill Morseth, an account specialist at TrainND, said expensive rental housing makes it hard to retain lower-income workers.

Attendees, who included representatives of LM Wind Power, Altru Health System and Hugo’s supermarkets, said focusing on affordable child care, marketing the community and strengthening ties with the area’s higher education institutions can help alleviate the workforce shortages.

Earlier this week, state officials announced the launch of a campaign, titled, “Find the Good Life in North Dakota,” as a way to help attract workers. The campaign is being led by the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation.


Another issue discussed Thursday was how to retain the area’s young people, and convince them that they don’t have to leave the state to find a well-paying job.

Keith Lund, vice president of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., said a 2010 study showed Grand Forks had a smaller concentration of 30- to 39-year-olds than the national average. Meanwhile, its share of 20- to 24-year-olds was well above the national average, due to the large student population.

“So when people were telling us that they were having a hard time finding experienced people with five to 10 years of experience … the demographics really proved what people were telling us,” Lund said.

He said one of the initiatives to help keep young people in the area is the Northern Valley Career Expo, where high school students can experience firsthand what kind of jobs they can get here. The most recent expo was held in November.

“One of the greatest assets we have in this community are our kids, who are our future workforce,” said Greg Strausbaugh of Job Service.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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