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Workforce recruitment campaign aims to full ND job openings

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BISMARCK - Officials announced a campaign here Monday to recruit new workers to keep North Dakota's economy humming, saying it will be different from past efforts to bring workers to the state.

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The campaign, titled "Find the Good Life in North Dakota," is a public-private partnership led by the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation, an entity created by state law that consists of private-sector business and education leaders charged with helping the governor and Department of Commerce develop economic growth strategies.

"Right now, having enough highly skilled people to meet the opportunities here in North Dakota is one of the key challenges for our economy moving forward," Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley said.

The campaign will promote North Dakota as a great place to live, work and raise a family, foundation chairman Wally Goulet said.

Hess Corp., a major player in the state's oil and gas industry, gave the foundation $400,000 to jump-start the campaign, and the Commerce Department is contributing $400,000 in matching funds.

The foundation plans to seek support from other businesses, as well, with the goal of raising $2.5 million in two years, Goulet said. Bismarck-based advertising and marketing firm Odney has been hired for the campaign, he said.

The campaign will target thousands of veterans and active military members expected to re-enter civilian life in the coming years, as well as new graduates and job seekers with desired skill sets from other states, primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a white paper provided by state Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman. Montana and South Dakota are among the secondary target states.

To reach the target audiences, the campaign will use a yet-to-be-named website still under construction, paid digital advertising and visits to military bases, job fairs and college campuses.

"We're not going to say this is the answer for everyone," Goulet said, adding that North Dakota is in a unique situation with its robust economy. "I don't think any other state has done something like this."

The Commerce Department launched a program in 2006 called "Experience North Dakota" that aimed to lure native North Dakotans back to the state through job fairs in cities such as Chicago and Denver at a cost to the state of about $15,000 per event, the Associated Press reported. But officials Monday tried to distinguish this latest strategy from past efforts.

"I don't know that we've tried it before," Coleman said. "There's been disjointed efforts, but this effort is really to try and combine things."

More details about the strategic goals and individual pieces of the campaign - including the address of the website - will be released in May, Coleman said.

Wrigley, who announced the campaign with Goulet and Steve McNally, Hess Corp.'s general manager for North Dakota operations, said job opportunities exist in various sectors across the state, not just in the western oil-producing region.

The state had 20,205 online job openings in February, Job Service North Dakota reported, and it's projected to have an additional 76,000 jobs by 2020.

McNally said Hess isn't interested in hiring people who plan to stay in North Dakota only for a month or two.

"We need a workforce that we can rely on in the future, and we want those workers to be able to see the exciting opportunities here," he said.

Housing availability and costs have been a roadblock for some workers looking to move to North Dakota, particularly in the Oil Patch. Goulet said the campaign won't necessarily address housing, but he added that communities are adding housing to meet needs.

Goulet said a "series of metrics" will be used to gauge the campaign's reach and whether it's being effective in recruiting workers.

Asked if more state funding would be sought in the future, he said, "I think if we show a good effort on our part, we won't be shy about asking the Legislature to look into it."

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