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Southwestern North Dakota facing worker shortage

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Southwestern North Dakota facing worker shortage
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

DICKINSON, N.D. -- Amidst a national economic downturn, southwest North Dakota appears to be holding its own and contrary to many areas, still has hundreds of jobs available.

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Mary Urlacher, customer service office manager for Job Service North Dakota in Dickinson, said to date, 700 jobs are available in the eight county-area they service. In Stark County, she said about 570 jobs are available.

Urlacher said available jobs cover a broad spectrum, from oil field work, service jobs and truck driving to production, manufacturing and all aspects of nursing.

Analysis by American City Business Journals ranked North Dakota number one in coping with the recession, according to the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal's Web site.

Tracking and analyzing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the study focused on unemployment rates and growth in nonfarm employment, home value, personal income, wage increases and construction employment.

North Dakota's job market, on all levels, has increased each year, according to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site.

Preliminary projections show that annual pay from 2007 to 2008 in Stark County increased by nearly $4,000, established businesses increased by about 14 and the number of jobs increased by about 523.

From 2001 to 2008, Stark County's total annual wages increased by about $12,100.

Southwest North Dakota's strong economic reputation may be spreading.

Lexi Sebastian, executive director of the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber sends out relocation packets upon request and has sent out 82 since the beginning of March. The packets have been requested from residents of Wyoming, Michigan, Washington, Texas, Oregon, Montana, South Dakota, Alabama, Illinois, Missouri, Alaska, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma.

Sebastian said the chamber has received numerous calls and visits from out-of-state families, individuals and businesses expressing interest in relocating to North Dakota.

Thomas Reichert, a certified public accountant and partner with Reichert Fisher PC, a Dickinson-based accounting firm, said the most significant change he has witnessed is in people's attitudes.

"Individual investors have lost a lot of money in the markets and that's been a big concern for them and has changed their attitude as how they go about their business," Reichert said.

Business owners are concerned with what's happening at the national level and how it may affect local business, Reichert said.

"Even though they maybe haven't seen a lot of effects, they are concerned about it and they make decisions differently because they're more negative ... and more cautious ... and more worried.

Reichert said day-to-day businesses in western North Dakota may have experienced some slowdown in comparison to a robust 2008 year.

"It isn't bad at all, compared to what it is when you talk to people in other parts of the country," Reichert said. "I still hear of business people (in this area) who are still having trouble finding people to work for them."

Terri Thiel, executive director of the Dickinson Convention & Visitors Bureau, said lodging tax revenue increased by about 23 to 25 percent in the last year.

The increase could be attributed to construction, tourism and a rise in industrial activity, Thiel said.

Thiel said the bureau has also experienced a large increase in people inquiring about staying in the area permanently.

"We have a lot of them that come in as walk-ins from Job Service," Thiel said. "We have a lot of them that walk in actually asking for real estate guides, or they'll come in and say, 'Well we just moved to the area do you have a map?' "

Local schools may be feeling the affects of North Dakota's strong economy.

As reported in a previous Press article, Dickinson Public Schools saw 153 more students than expected the first day of school.

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