BUSINESS NOTEBOOK: Report outlines N.D. workforce concerns
North Dakota's booming economy appears to have contributed to a growing worker shortage in the state. More than 25,000 new net jobs have been created in the state since 2000, with almost 8,000 created last year alone, according to the North Dakot...
North Dakota's booming economy appears to have contributed to a growing worker shortage in the state.
More than 25,000 new net jobs have been created in the state since 2000, with almost 8,000 created last year alone, according to the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.
But Job Service North Dakota has more than 10,000 current job postings with no takers - and those are only the jobs posted with the agency.
"Employers are scrambling to find the workers they need," said Keith Reitmeier, Job Service North Dakota's area manager for northeastern North Dakota.
Reitmeier estimated Job Service North Dakota knows of more than 1,000 job openings in the Grand Forks metro area alone, including about 300 in the food and service industry and close to 200 in sales and related services.
"We're staffed pretty well, but I guess we're always looking for employees," said Blake Evert, store manager of the Grand Forks Super Target store. "Everybody is looking for employees. For the most part, that means stores are doing well, so they are adding on staff."
A report compiled by Workforce Associates Inc. for the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce and released in October found the most important challenge facing the state is finding enough workers to keep the economy churning.
At 2.7 percent, North Dakota's unemployment rate essentially translates to full employment. The Grand Forks metropolitan statistical area, which comprises Grand Forks County and Polk County, also had a 2.7 percent unemployment rate in November - a full 2 percentage points below the national unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.
So, where are the workers going to come from?
In order to maintain a sufficient workforce, the report suggests, it is vital to slow the flow of young workers to other states and attract new residents from other states and countries.
North Dakota lost 1,136 residents to other states from 2006 to 2007 but gained 440 international residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau population estimates.
Recent data included in the workforce report showed that of the 6,339 students who graduated from the North Dakota University System in 2004, only 54 percent were found living in the state a year later.
"North Dakota has been feeding the Minnesota population since World War II," said Steven Ruggles, director of the Minnesota Population Center, a University of Minnesota demographic research cooperative.
Ruggles said the reasons for residents leaving the state mirror the reasons people move from farms and small towns to big cities.
"Partly, it is jobs and better opportunities," Ruggles said. "It is also the bright lights of the city and the idea there is more going on, more to do and more diversity."
But the tide may be turning.
Rod Backman, chairman of the North Dakota Census Committee, said the number of workers leaving for other states has decreased from earlier this decade.
According to Job Service North Dakota data, the number of workers younger than 35 in the state has grown by more than 2,000 per year from 2004 through 2006.
One of the main reasons workers leave the state is for better opportunities and better pay elsewhere.
The workforce report cites 2005 data showing average earnings of $29,818 a year in North Dakota. That's slightly higher than South Dakota and Montana's average earnings, but it trails Minnesota and the national average by more than $10,000 a year.
Grand Forks' average annual earnings of $28,260 is one third less than the Minnesota metro average of $43,339, according to the report.
But Shane Goettle, commissioner of the state Chamber, said North Dakota employers are raising wages and improving benefits, partially because of competition from other states and partly because of the need to be more competitive to attract top applicants in a worker-friendly job market.
"Competitive pressures are raising wages," Goettle said. "Employers are raising wages and benefits and asking, 'How do we retain the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings?' That is a good dynamic to be happening in our economy. We need our private companies to be able to attract and keep employees."
Goettle said North Dakota's less expensive cost of living and a high quality of living makes the state an attractive place to live.
"North Dakota is a great place to raise a family," said Goettle, who moved back to the state from Washington, D.C., two years ago. "We have the lowest crime rate in the nation and great schools. Our commutes are some of the shortest in the nation. Housing also is much less expensive in North Dakota than it is in many larger cities. When you add it all up, it makes North Dakota an extremely good place to go."
In an effort to lure more former North Dakotans and others to the state, the Commerce Department started hosting 'Experience North Dakota' job fairs a year ago. The first event was held in St. Paul. Subsequent job fairs have been held in Chicago and Denver in recent months, with another event planned for St. Paul in February.
Goettle said the job fairs are a way for the state to help match up employers with prospective employees, who can learn about job opportunities at companies that attend the event. Employers can go home with a stack of resumes from potential job candidates while attendees will go away considering moving to North Dakota.
"We're hoping to be a catalyst to get people to take a fresh look at North Dakota for opportunities," Goettle said.
To report business news, reach Ryan Schuster at (701) 780-1107 or at email@example.com . Read Schuster's business blog at www.areavoices.com/bizbuzz .