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Letter to the editor: Workforce needs can’t be ignored

In a recent Grand Forks Herald editorial, “Workforce campaign must wrestle with housing,” that ran in The Jamestown Sun March 19 correctly points out that housing is a very real challenge created by our state’s economic success. However, as chair of the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation, I also believe our organization’s commitment to workforce development is appropriate and important.

Housing is already the focus of federal, state and local government agencies and private sector initiatives across North Dakota. And while there is more to do, these efforts are making real progress. In fact, our state now ranks No. 1 in the nation for housing starts. Thousands of new housing units have been built in communities from the valley to the oil fields and thousands more are in the works.

Ensuring the availability of a trained workforce to meet the needs of our state’s economic success cannot be ignored. North Dakota has about 25,000 job openings today and is expected to add another 76,000 jobs by 2020.

Contrary to popular belief, our workforce needs are not just limited to oil- and gas-producing counties. More than 60 percent of all current job openings exist outside the oil and gas counties. It is true that the challenge of adequate housing exists in some communities, but workforce shortages exist in virtually every corner of the state.

And while our energy sector has significant workforce challenges, it is not alone. Health care, manufacturing, transportation, public services, agriculture, tourism and retail all report significant workforce shortages. From engineers to welders and roughnecks to nurses, North Dakota must develop, recruit and retain a permanent, skilled workforce to meet the needs of our economy today and in the future.

The North Dakota Economic Development Foundation is a 22-member board comprised of business leaders from across the state. We are charged with helping the governor and the North Dakota Department of Commerce develop and execute strategies that improve our state’s competitiveness and increase economic growth.

Our recent decision to launch the “Find the Good Life in North Dakota” workforce development campaign is within our mission and our strategic plan. More importantly, it seeks to address a significant and growing challenge facing our state’s business community by giving potential job seekers the tools and information they need to successfully enter our workforce and take advantage of everything our state has to offer.

If our state is to continue to grow and thrive, we must simultaneously work to solve a number of the challenges our state’s economic renaissance has created including, but not limited to, housing and workforce development. Failing to do so threatens not only our current economic success but the promise of our state’s bright future.

(Goulet is the chair of the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation)