North Dakotans aging as boomers near retirementIn a state where more young people tend to leave for jobs than come for them, the impending retirement of baby boomers makes attracting young workers one of North Dakota's most pressing tasks, a state Commerce Department official says.
By: TREVOR BORN , Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — In a state where more young people tend to leave for jobs than come for them, the impending retirement of baby boomers makes attracting young workers one of North Dakota's most pressing tasks, a state Commerce Department official says.
U.S. census data released Thursday shows the number of North Dakota residents between the ages of 55 and 64 more than doubled between 2000 and 2010.
“We definitely recognize, along with the rest of the country, that we have a workforce issue looming,” said Paul Govig, deputy director of the North Dakota Commerce Department. “If we don't do something about it, our businesses are going to have some real problems.”
The Census Bureau's data shows 81,819 North Dakotans between 55 and 64 as of April 1, 2010, an increase of 53 percent from a decade ago.
The bureau released age breakdowns for 13 states Thursday. Nationwide estimates from 2009 showed the 55-to-64 age group was the fastest growing since 2000, rising 47 percent.
Rod Backman, the chairman of a state census committee and a former North Dakota budget director, said he wasn't surprised by the numbers.
“At least traditionally, North Dakota has aged faster than states like Arizona or Colorado, which get a lot of migration into them,” Backman said. “But the more recent migration from the oil industry should help with that.”
An oil boom in western North Dakota has attracted an influx of young workers, and Backman said the census did not count all of them as North Dakota residents.
Between the census cutoff date of April 1, 2010, and March 1, 2011, at least 665 new oil wells were drilled in North Dakota, according to the state Department of Mineral Resources.
But oil booms can end and transient field workers may not stay in the state afterward. Govig said he's focused on building more stable industries, such as manufacturing, by offering tax breaks and other financial incentives.
“We're very thankful for what's going on in the northwest, and those jobs are tremendous, but we have to look at a wider picture than that,” Govig said.
Two years ago, at the Legislature's request, the Commerce Department set up the North Dakota Youth Office to encourage young workers to stay in the state. This weekend, it will host a job fair in Minneapolis where North Dakota businesses can recruit entry-level employees.
A baby boomer himself, Govig said he wouldn't be surprised if he has to work part time for a span after retiring, while his and other positions wait to be filled.
“Basically we know that, because there's such a huge bulge of baby boomers that will retire at generally the same time, we have to be very cognizant of our work force,” Govig said. “We've had a couple years since the national economy soured and people decided not to retire, but we're going to have to start getting serious.”