Need a job? North Dakota is calling

Marketplace Staff Aug 11, 2009

Need a job? North Dakota is calling

Marketplace Staff Aug 11, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: The July unemployment rate was 9.4 percent. That sounds pretty high. But there are states where anything less than 10 percent would be cause for celebration. The jobless rate in Michigan is 15 percent. The worst in the country. Ohio’s at 11 percent. The most-employed state in the U.S. is North Dakota. The labor market there is so healthy cities and counties are trying to attract laid-off workers from the rest of the Midwest. Dan Bobkoff from WCPN in Cleveland has our story.

DAN BOBKOFF: Here in Ohio, the recession has only added to the woes of foreclosures and plant closings. It can be a little depressing.

So when I called up Shane Goettle, who heads the North Dakota Department of Commerce, it was a bit like stepping into bizarro world.

SHANE GOETTLE: Overall our unemployment rate is 4.2 for June. We’ve had real good strength in energy, agriculture. Tourism has actually been good for us.

And then, there’s this:

GOETTLE: We have thousands of jobs available in the state. As of July 1, there are about 9,000 openings.

Nine-thousand jobs.

GOETTLE: I know that may not be the experience of many other states right now, but it is what is happening in North Dakota.

What is happening is a combination of planning and luck that’s left the state with something rare these days: a $700 million budget surplus and a big fat tax cut. Its banks mostly avoided the subprime mess, and North Dakota worked to bring in more businesses like Microsoft. Then, prices went up quickly for the state’s traditional strengths — energy and agriculture.

So now with thousands of jobs available, North Dakota officials have been traveling out of state to try to fill them. Jerry Chavez heads a development corporation for the small city of Minot. Since the beginning of the year, his group has been making monthly visits to job fairs in hard-hit Midwestern communities.

JERRY CHAVEZ: The initial reaction is wow, what are you doing here from North Dakota? You have jobs that are available? Tell us more about these jobs.

Once they get over the surprise that North Dakota is doing well, more out-of-work Midwesterners think seriously about picking up and moving. People like Milton Moore of Cleveland.

MILTON MOORE: For me, the last year or two has been terrible. It’s been bad. No steady employment. Nothing steady.

Moore works in construction when he can get work. But with all his free time lately, he’s been playing a lot of Xbox, and it was through a chat room on that video-game system that he started talking to a fellow player.

MOORE: And we were talking jobs, and he was like, ‘You should come to North Dakota.’ So we had this nice little lengthy conversation on North Dakota, the population and the whole woo-wop.

Moore was intrigued so he sent his resume to a bunch of North Dakota employers. He’s ready and willing to move when the call comes.

Near Columbus, Ohio, Janet Morgan is meeting the movers after she got the call from a call center in Bismarck.

She had degrees in useful things like computer science and communications, and yet, had no luck finding something in Ohio’s job market.

JANET MORGAN: There are just so many people out of work that you could have 500 people including PhD’s applying for a janitor’s position, and they’re going to take whoever.

So she packed up her stuff and is heading out. Morgan hopes to be promoted quickly at her new call-center job. And while she would have rather stayed in Ohio, she likes her new home.

MORGAN: Oh, Bismarck is beautiful! It’s clean, and there’s a mall, and it’s a nice mall, and has some of my favorite stores.

But it’s warm now. What about the frigid winter? North Dakota’s Shane Goettle says it’s not so bad, and these days, they’re even taking advantage of their weather.

SHANE GOETTLE: If you like wind, we have a lot of it, but that’s been a real potential for our development as well. That’s why we’re putting wind machines out in the prairie.

Rub it in why don’t you.

In Cleveland, I’m Dan Bobkoff for Marketplace.

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