Grand Forks jobs programs attempt to expand worker pool

North Dakota State Roundup

Published October 1, 1997  | October 1997 issue

A tight labor market for skilled workers was the norm for the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks area before this spring's flood, but since then the overall number of workers needed to rebuild has about doubled.

The Grand New Work Force Project, funded by the Otto Bremer and Bush foundations, was created to help solve these workforce problems, especially those faced by small businesses and nonprofits. The two-year project is a joint effort by the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., Job Service of North Dakota, the East Grand Forks and Grand Forks chambers of commerce, the North Dakota Small Business Development Centers, Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owen's Subcommittee on Work Force and the University of North Dakota's Office of Work Force Development.

According to Galen Cariveau, work force development coordinator at the University of North Dakota, the anticipated exodus of residents following the flood never materialized. The difference is that "there are more jobs than ever," Cariveau says. And most jobs are in the area of flood recovery, which pay more than service jobs, he says. "It's a reverse domino effect," Cariveau says of the need for people to fill service jobs that have been abandoned in favor of higher-paying construction-related jobs.

With 36 North Dakota counties below 2 percent unemployment in September, the pool of workers to choose from is limited. According to Kim Klinger, customer relations representative for Job Service of North Dakota in Grand Forks, there were 2,600 more jobs listed in Grand Forks from February to September this year than for the same period a year ago, ranging from accountants and computer programmers to dishwashers. In July alone there were nearly four times the average job openings, than for the same month last year.

The project will work with local businesses and nonprofit organizations to assess their training needs and establish a regional training fund, provide business training plans and budgets, and offer grant writing services. Retraining current employed workers is an important component of the project, Cariveau says, because so many recent employees don't have the skills necessary for their jobs. "People that businesses are hiring today wouldn't have gotten jobs six months ago because they don't have the skills," he says.

The Red River Work Force Project, a parallel jobs program, is doing much the same work in smaller flood-affected Red River Valley communities, from Wahpeton, N.D., to Breckenridge, Minn., and north of the Grand Forks area to the Canadian border.

The University of North Dakota is also in the process of developing a summer work incentive program for university students. The goal is to keep 1,000 students working in Grand Forks over next summer. Students could live in campus dormitories and avail themselves of campus services normally unavailable during the summer. Some evening classes might also be offered to further encourage students to stay, and "help the community to rebuild," Cariveau says.

Kathy Cobb