Wanted: Workers, housingA lack of workers and housing is slowing business development and expansion in the region. A Regional Workforce Roundtable brought together more than 40 business and economic leaders from the region to discuss how to address both issues Thursday.
By: By Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
A lack of workers and housing is slowing business development and expansion in the region. A Regional Workforce Roundtable brought together more than 40 business and economic leaders from the region to discuss how to address both issues Thursday.
“Housing is scary,” said Rich Garmen, project manager for Great River Energy’s Dakota Spirit AgEnergy ethanol plant. “Where is the workforce going to come from?”
Garmen said the planned Spiritwood Nitrogen Project by CHS Inc. and the ethanol plant, along with the Cargill malting plant, will all be competing for similar workers. Skilled manufacturing employees are just one category where the current workforce does not meet needs.
“We hire a lot of assemblers which are semi-skilled, machinists which are skilled and engineers that are professional,” said Brent Harris, plant manager for United Technologies Corp. “Assemblers we can fill but machinists are a problem. There are none around here. We’ve hired 10 from all around the United States.”
Harris also said hiring manufacturing engineers is also a problem.
The problem finding qualified workers also extend to the building trades.
“We have 85 workers,” said Steve Welken, president for Grotberg Electric of Valley City. “If I could hire 12 or 15 more experienced guys I would do it tomorrow.”
Welken said the problem would grow with the planned construction of the nitrogen plant, ethanol plant and a wind farm in Stutsman County, an addition to John Deere Manufacturing in Valley City and a hospital construction and renovation project in Fargo.
“There are not enough construction workers in North Dakota to do the projects listed,” he said.
Shortages of housing went hand-in-hand with labor shortages during the discussion.
“Working with our businesses we see growth but there is no place for people to live,” said Don Frye, Carrington mayor. “We have one home for sale and zero apartments available.”
The wages of the area continue to be below the national average which may also contribute to the lack of workers.
Holly Miller, office coordinator for the JSDC, presented information that employers in the Jamestown region saved about 19 percent compared to the national average for salaries. The wages paid in the area were about 30 percent less than Minneapolis, 6.8 percent less than Fargo and 5.2 percent less than Bismarck.
Welken said local businesses could not match the higher wages.
“Until we have the customer base willing to pay that level you can’t increase wages,” he said.
The Regional Workforce Roundtable will continue with a meeting next week to continue analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats concerning businesses in the area.
Connie Ova, chief executive officer of the JSDC, said the intent of the discussions is to generate a plan to attract more workers to the area and provide housing for them when they arrive.
“Let’s get this done and do some recruiting,” she said.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at email@example.com