Where do we get workers in Grand Forks (and anywhere)?

It is a regular topic of conversation, how are we going to get more workers in Grand Forks. First, let’s address the situation with employment.

We can see that employment remains well below the 2019 level and that the situation in Grand Forks is complicated. Earlier this year employment was above the immediate impact of the pandemic and is returning to the pattern of 2019 and late 2020. This still puts us about 2,000 employed below the level of 2019.

Back to the question at hand: where do we get workers. There are a few options we can consider. Any business can try to bring new workers into the area from outside the region. This is the option most often thought of and discussed when economic development considerations ate the topic of conversation. Another option is to induce workers to switch from one business to another. This does not increase employment at all, but it could be beneficial to the economy in an aggregate sense. The last option I present here, and the one I think is most desirable is to employ the unemployed workers in the metro area.

Unemployment is up from the 2019 level, though significantly down from the 2020 pandemic fallout. We are sitting around 1300 unemployed and these would be the easiest workers to incorporate into the active workforce. Now easiest does not necessarily mean easy.

These workers may have mismatched or eroded skills. They may have circumstances interrupting their employment situation. There are many things that could be going on, but the fact remains they are the most readily available workforce and still represent a net addition into the ranks of the employed.

Of the three groupings the one option that is at some level least satisfying is the transfer of workers between jobs in the metro area. This predation of businesses upon each other could be beneficial in the aggregate, but from an employment perspective represents a zero sum gain situation in the local economy.

As we talk about development we need to keep these issues, and the general constrained labor situation locally and around the country in mind. Constraints can keep us from reaching our goals, especially when we do not recognize them or act in defiance of them. Looking local seems the first best choice. Importing new labor from outside the region is a second best option, but is very difficult in a circumstance of national labor shortage. Let’s hope we do not have too much of businesses turning on each other for workers.

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