MOORHEAD-The worker shortage in the Fargo-Moorhead area and surrounding region is not an isolated phenomenon.

Finding qualified, skilled employees is one of the biggest challenges facing manufacturing companies in Minnesota, according to a recent survey of manufacturing executives from across the state.

Even the Twin Cities metro area, which traditionally hasn't had a problem finding qualified workers, is now struggling with workforce issues mostly tied to retirements, said Bob Kill, president and CEO of Enterprise Minnesota, a business consulting firm that is releasing survey results at stops across Minnesota. He made a presentation Thursday at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead.

"I think it has reached a point we are now competing across industries (for workers)," said Kill, adding that other top manufacturing industry concerns include health care costs and government regulation.

This spring marks the seventh year of the state of manufacturing survey in Minnesota. Kill said bright spots include reduced worries about the economy and energy costs.

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Manufacturers are hiring more, when they can, and paying better, he said. "Confidence is high."

A member of Kill's audience suggested that one thing that might help Minnesota manufacturers address their workforce problems is to increase recruiting efforts at places like two-year colleges.

Energy and transportation companies did that several years ago and many were better off when the oil boom began, said Barbara Bang, dean of the technologies and services division at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

"Make the career interesting to students," she said.

Kill agreed that community and technical colleges are vital in solving the workforce issue.

He also said colleges have a powerful selling point when convincing young people to consider manufacturing as a career: After graduation, they're almost guaranteed a job.

More information about the state of manufacturing survey can be found at the Enterprise Minnesota's website: www.enterpriseminnesota.org.