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Williston Job Service swamped with job seekers

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Williston Job Service swamped with job seekers
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

WILLISTON - Cindy Sanford's workplace is so popular that people from across the country wait outside for the doors to open in the morning.

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Customers want what she and her staff have: access to jobs. Lots of them.

Nearly 100 people were at Job Service North Dakota's Williston office before noon on Monday, said Sanford, the office manager.

The parking lot is full of out-of-state license plates and workers who have made their way to western North Dakota in search of work after hearing about the state's oil boom.

"We've never, ever seen an influx from the rest of the world like we are now," said Ginger Meininger, a customer service specialist who has worked at the Williston office for 25 years. "There's not a state we haven't talked to."

Although it hasn't received the publicity other aspects of the oil boom have, Job Service North Dakota is at the center of the whirlwind. The agency reported more than 20,000 job openings throughout the state in December.

The state's wealth of jobs spurred more than 142,000 unique visitors to the agency's online Labor Exchange System in December, including 22,500 people who accessed their account and 6,700 additional registrations.

And that doesn't include walk-in traffic, phone calls and emails to the agency's offices.

Sanford sees a lot of people from Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Florida hoping to find jobs in North Dakota.

"I don't think North Dakota realizes just how bad the economy is in the rest of the United States," she said. "There truly are not jobs."

Increasing along with North Dakota job openings are the number of businesses.

There were 11,759 limited liability companies registered with the state as of last week, up from 6,818 in June 2009, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said.

During the same period, the number of active contractor licenses grew from 7,366 to 10,633. In addition, the number of foreign (out-of-state) corporations registered jumped from 11,815 to 15,368.

About one-third of North Dakota's job openings are in the western part of the state. Sanford estimates there are 3,300 job openings in the Williston area, not all of which are listed through Job Service.

"There's a lot of networking in Walmart or at the man camps or at the local pub," she said.

Still, Job Service North Dakota's website, jobsnd.com, has more than 90 percent of the job openings in North Dakota listed, "which really gives job seekers a total view of the entire picture," said Maren Daley, the agency's executive director.

Job seekers can look through openings, and companies can search through resumes on the site, said Michael Ziesch, manager of the Labor Market Information Center.

But while the number of people the agency helps has increased, Job Service has seen a decline in personnel. The agency is federally funded, and fewer federal dollars resulted in staff reductions from 387 full-time equivalent positions in 2001 to 262 in 2012.

"It's huge. It's huge," Daley said of the employee decrease. "So, we have to be very, very efficient."

Sanford feels the crunch in the Williston office. Her branch has five employees, plus a part-timer, to handle the increased workload. She has two open positions she's trying to fill.

Dickinson's office is also short on staff and looking to hire, said office manager Mary Urlacher.

Traffic in Dickinson isn't as hectic as Williston's but is still busy, she said. Customers come in to use computers to search for jobs, ask for help on resumes and applications, and ask questions about job postings.

Although there's been a lot of publicity over people with criminal backgrounds moving to the Oil Patch, Sanford said there are many highly qualified people moving to North Dakota to find work, too.

Meininger said workers coming in to Job Service are "very anxious and energetic" about getting jobs.

"They are here to do exactly that," she said. "We're seeing a workforce that wants to work and so they understand that, to do that, we're one of the paths to that."

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.

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