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LABOR SHORTAGE: N.D. tries to lure workers back home

ST. PAUL - It seemed more like a reunion than a jobs fair Saturday as hundreds of Minnesotans - mostly with North Dakota roots - toured booths of North Dakota employers seeking workers.

ST. PAUL - It seemed more like a reunion than a jobs fair Saturday as hundreds of Minnesotans - mostly with North Dakota roots - toured booths of North Dakota employers seeking workers.

"Certainly, the interest is there to move back to North Dakota," Napoleon, N.D., native Mark Freier said after talking to Christina Weiderrich of the Jamestown (N.D.)/Stutsman Development Corporation.

Like many at the event, Freier said he was not actively looking, but moving home always is in the back of his mind.

Weiderrich said Saturday's fair in the luxurious St. Paul Hotel was not typical. Instead of employers putting on a sales pitch, those attending Saturday launched into: "Do you know (adding a name of a friend or relative)?"

"You already are sold on the state," Weiderrich said.


That was the idea behind what North Dakota officials called "Experience North Dakota," which, besides a jobs fair, included things such as North Dakota singers and food.

Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle said the daylong event was a pilot project designed to fill good-paying jobs that are open in North Dakota. The emphasis was to attract workers for jobs paying at least $30,000 annually.

North Dakota's colleges and universities provided names of graduates and the Commerce Department made other efforts to connect to former North Dakotans. More than 10,000 potential employees were invited.

Twenty businesses and organizations, from Williston to Fargo, participated. North Dakota firms are finding it difficult to hire people for high-paying jobs, Goettle said, with few workers unemployed and many businesses expanding.

Many of the jobs companies need to fill are for engineers.

Doreen Brant of Fargo's Ulteig Engineers had a stack of resumes less than two hours after the doors open. Seven openings at the Fargo office pay $40,000 and up, she said.

Most people she talked to said they hope to return to North Dakota.

Dan Gordon from LM Glasfiber in Grand Forks was hunting for engineers and managers who would be paid $40,000 to $100,000, or maybe even more, to fill needs at the rapidly expanding maker of turbine blades used in wind-powered electric generators.


Glasfiber opened in 1999 with 40 employees, and early next year should have more than 700, Gordon said.

The Denmark-based company is looking for engineers and a plant manager, among other positions, in Grand Forks.

Engineers in aerospace and automobile manufacturing would be good fits for his company, Gordon said.

While employers were the first stop of most attending the Saturday event, many also talked to Claus Lembke of the North Dakota Association of Realtors. Homes often sell for $100,000 less in North Dakota than the Twin Cities, Lembke said, which helps make moving back home more attractive.

"It is a critical part if you want to come back," he said.

Gaylon Bakr of the Dickinson-based Stark Development Corporation said Stark County alone has more than 900 job openings, many of which are newly created in southwest North Dakota's booming manufacturing sector.

Fargo native Erik Knutson is thinking about moving and was surprised at the opportunities in North Dakota.

"The economy seems to be doing well," said Knutson, who lives in the Twin Cities suburb of Roseville. Besides, North Dakota business is stable, he added.


Knutson is thinking about North Dakota for a couple of reasons. "No. 1 is my children. And I've got a sentimental attraction to my home."

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