By: Dave Olson
MOORHEAD – A workforce study released Thursday confirms what many employers have been painfully aware of for some time: There aren’t enough people living in the Fargo-Moorhead area to fill available jobs.
But the study went one step further and stated that over the next five years, at least 30,000 new job openings are expected, with close to half of those being low-paying positions that make it difficult for workers to cover the cost of child care, transportation and housing.
“If we don’t address this problem, this issue is going to get worse and worse,” said Jim Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., speaking to an audience of community leaders who gathered in Moorhead to hear highlights of the workforce study.
The 100-page report was prepared by TIP Strategies, a consulting firm based in Austin, Texas.
Tom Stellman, president and CEO of TIP, told the group that the Fargo-Moorhead area is at a tipping point. The community is small enough that individuals feel they can still make a difference, but large enough to be a competitor nationally when it comes to attracting a qualified workforce.
He said the challenge becomes how to convince people to live here when many areas around the country are also striving to attract and retain workers.
“This is a national issue,” he said.
One thing the study highlighted is a pay gap when median wages in Fargo-Moorhead are compared to national numbers.
Local numbers tend to lag the national figures, particularly at the high end of the wage scale, where the difference between what companies pay here and what they pay elsewhere is greater than 20 percent, Stellman said.
Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, said local employers have started raising pay, but he said the pace may be too slow to make an impact when people are deciding where they want to live and work.
“This (pay gap) is a huge part of it,” he said.
Some other findings of the report:
• The number of jobs in the Fargo-Moorhead area grew by nearly 30,000 between 2004 and 2014, a 24 percent increase.
• That compares to a 5 percent increase in the total number of jobs in the U.S. for the same period.
• There are now about 6,700 job listings posted online in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
Stellman said one approach to attracting more people to the area would be to embrace one of its perceived weaknesses, its northern climate.
“Embrace the cold,” Stellman said, adding that organizing something along the lines of a communitywide winter carnival should be made a priority.
He said current efforts that promote the Fargo area as a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurial drive should be supported and he suggested a contest could be organized that invites the public to offer ideas on how the worker shortage can be turned around.
Gartin agreed community input will be valuable in finding solutions and he challenged those attending Thursday’s gathering to give of their time and energy.
“This is just the beginning and we need your help,” he said.