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Community collaboration, immigration reform critical to easing F-M worker shortage, expert says

"We need immigration reform and we need it bad," Ted Abernathy said at an event hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.

A bearded man in a suit speaks in front of a podium on a stage.
Ted Abernathy, the managing partner of Economic Leadership LLC, gave a presentation of a regional Master Workforce/Talent Strategy at NDSU's Festival Concert Hall in the Reineke Fine Arts Center on Monday, July 25, 2022.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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FARGO — A consultant who is helping officials in the Fargo-Moorhead area find solutions to the region's worker shortage said Monday, July 25, the often "messy" process of collaboration will be key to solving workforce needs.

In addition, comprehensive immigration reform is necessary in order to fill jobs locally and across the country that are going unfilled, according to Ted Abernathy, managing partner at Economic Leadership, a national consulting group.

"We need immigration reform, and we need it bad," Abernathy said at an event hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce at North Dakota State University.

He said factors fueling the nationwide labor shortage include the high cost of child care, which prompted many women to decide staying home makes more sense than working.

Also, the COVID-19 pandemic led many people over the age of 55 to assess their work situation and come to the simple conclusion: "I'm done," said Abernathy, who added there are only five ways to build a worker population in a community:

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  • Get more people to move there.
  • Convince current workers to stay.
  • Enhance immigration numbers.
  • Engage workers who have been out of the workforce to rejoin it, including people who have spent time in prison.
  • Encourage people to have more babies and then "wait 18 years."

On the question of how to convince workers to move to the area, Abernathy said Fargo-Moorhead already has many things going for it, but the rising cost of living, including the price of homes, could make that effort more difficult.

A suited man on a stage speaks to a crowd in an auditorium.
Ted Abernathy, the managing partner of Economic Leadership LLC, gave a presentation of a regional Master Workforce/Talent Strategy and took audience questions at the end at North Dakota State University's Festival Concert Hall in the Reineke Fine Arts Center on Monday, July 25.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

He said convincing state lawmakers to modify child care rules would be one way to reduce the cost of living for families, warning that the cost of living in a community can often "price out" entry-level workers.

As far as an action plan for promoting workforce development, Abernathy said making the most of what the area has to offer will require things like contractual agreements between community partners, as well as pursuing a dedicated source of public funding.

Monday's event was part of the ongoing Fueling Our Future initiative, a communitywide effort that began several years ago in response to a growing worker shortage.

Officials said information provided Monday will figure into a larger update to the Fueling Our Future effort expected to be presented to community members in October.

Shannon Full, president and CEO of the Chamber, said after Abernathy's presentation that solving the area's worker shortage will require an ongoing commitment of resources and community collaboration. She said she believes many in the area are committed to finding an answer.

"Challenging conversations are ahead of us," said Joe Raso, president and CEO of the Greater Fargo/Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

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Average wages for child care workers have risen in recent years but decreased from $11.61 to $11.19 an hour from 2020 to 2021, said Zach Packineau, director of outreach and programming for ND Voices Network.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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