Grand Forks economy holding steady
If you look in the right places, there are good signs for Grand Forks' economy. Altru Health System officials say it added about 140 employees between 2014 and 2016, of a total workforce closing in on 4,300 people. Tricia Weber, a human resources...
If you look in the right places, there are good signs for Grand Forks' economy.
Altru Health System officials say it added about 140 employees between 2014 and 2016, of a total workforce closing in on 4,300 people. Tricia Weber, a human resources manager with LM Wind Power, said the company has grown locally by 200 positions in the past four months, moving from just under 800 employees to more than 1,000.
"The company is doing well. There's been a spike with LM Wind Power worldwide. In 2016, we hired right around 3,000 people," Weber said. "There's just a general optimistic outlook in the wind industry."
Those are heartening statistics for the Grand Forks economy and come on the heels of a bump in metro-area employment.
But despite those developments in metro-area employment, the number of jobs in the area has been in a relative plateau-all while the city's residential building permits tick downward and sales tax collection for the city is down slightly as well.
"I think we're in a holding pattern, really trying to figure out what direction we're headed," said David Flynn, who leads UND's economics and finance department, in a discussion of the area's employment statistics. "I think we're at one of those crucial fluctuation points where we could stay level, (decrease) or increase."
A quick look at statistics from Job Service North Dakota helps illustrate the point. The number of people with jobs in the metro area has increased recently, up at nearly 56,000 in December after trending between 52,000 and 54,000 for nearly a decade. Total metro area employment, though-that's the total number of local jobs-has been relatively flat recently, with local jobs in December of each year totaling 57,000 in 2012, 57,300 in 2013, 57,800 in 2014, 57,400 in 2015 and 57,600 most recently.
Economic experts hailed the recent increase in employment, with one noting that some employers are emerging from economic headwinds. Cirrus Aircraft, for example, ought to be helped by the increasing distance from the 2008 global financial crisis that weighed on economies into the 2010s.
Cirrus Aircraft officials were unable to be reached for comment.
Flynn wondered, though, how much those numbers might be connected to a slowdown in turnover or a poor economy in western North Dakota.
"Here's where I come in on this: we were seeing a little bit of a decline, flattening out when oil was doing well," he said, and now there's an increase in employment. "Are we somewhat not in control of our own destiny?"
Flynn said policymaking could make the difference for North Dakota in the future, and that there will be several important factors to watch. How will national trade policy affect North Dakota markets?
"Take energy. We're going to cut energy regs. That doesn't necessarily help North Dakota because we're a labor-constrained environment," Flynn said, explaining that without the proper labor force, North Dakota wouldn't be able to capitalize on those changes.
Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland struck a more optimistic tone. He pointed out that the metro area has retained job levels despite fighting a weaker Canadian dollar and low commodity and oil prices.
"Even in a down economy, we've sustained our employment numbers," he said. "It's significant to say we're stable at worst and growing in other areas."