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Gov. Doug Burgum, right, speaks with Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford as they walk down Second Avenue with Mayor Shaun Sipma, left, Monday morning. Minot Daily News photo

Burgum hears Minot's concerns over worker shortage

MINOT, N.D.—The challenge of finding workers was at the heart of Minot's community conversation with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum over Main Street initiatives.

Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford walked Minot's Main Street Monday, Oct. 22, to see the impact of new infrastructure and private investment before holding a roundtable discussion on the ongoing challenges in creating a thriving city.

Burgum, who has been crisscrossing the state to promote his Main Street Initiative, noted Job Service North Dakota reports 1,100 job openings in the Minot area, which translates to a potential 2,000 jobs when including those positions not posted with Job Service.

"One of the things that's challenging our state more than any other topic is the fact that we don't have enough workers to fill the jobs we have," Burgum told community members gathered in the Central Campus Theater.

"But we also need to build attractive communities that will attract people to come and live in North Dakota," he said. "We have to get all of our communities to fire on all cylinders to help us win that workforce challenge."

"It's insane to try to find help," responded Kim Albert, who works in the Minot insurance industry. Discussing his company's struggle to fill a vacant position, he suggested doing more to attract students to the state's universities and then working to hold them in the state.

Drew Feist, a Central Campus sophomore, suggested colleges and universities get information to students earlier than their junior or senior years in high school when they already may be looking out of state.

Minot Public Schools Supt. Mark Vollmer said today's students are nontraditional learners, and the focus may not necessarily need to be specific job skills, because there is no college degree for insurance agent. He said students need skills in communication, management, work ethics and being a self starter.

Burgum spoke about the competition for students with schools in other states and the need to put dollars behind workforce development as well as into physical infrastructure.

He added communities need to be more welcoming to newcomers and less parochial.

"We have to drop all that because it's not about how long you lived here, how long your relatives lived here, that makes you a North Dakotan. If you chose North Dakota and North Dakota is where you want to be, that's part of what being a North Dakotan is," he said.

Debbie Harris, owner of Fiancee, a downtown bridal shop, suggested creating employment opportunities for jail inmates. She said she and other downtown business owners would be open to hiring and training low-risk offenders who want to start new lives.

"Sometimes people just need that second chance," she said.

Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma reminded the governor of the need for reciprocity in employment licensing so Air Force base dependents from other states can work in North Dakota.

"It's a entire area of workforce we are missing out on," he said. "I think it's an easy fix within North Dakota. It would put more people in a position to take some of those jobs and certainly improve that quality of life."

Sanford said the state might consider exempting military retiree pay from income taxes to encourage more retirees to settle in North Dakota or pursue second careers here. North Dakota is one of only seven states that tax retiree pay, he said.

Sipma said the governor's visit reinforced the importance of the revitalization efforts Minot is undertaking. The visit also enabled the city to bring its challenges to the state's attention.

"Some of those issues could be addressed at the state level very easily," he said. "It can move things along faster."