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N.D. posts nation's lowest jobless rate

North Dakota had the lowest jobless rate in the nation for September while Cass County dipped below the 2 percent line for the first time since September 2001 and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


North Dakota had the lowest jobless rate in the nation for September while Cass County dipped below the 2 percent line for the first time since September 2001 and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"That's exactly what we want," North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven said of the state's 2.7 percent September unemployment figure Friday from Bismarck.

"That's how you push raises and salaries higher. A rising tide lifts all boats, and that's what brings people back," Hoeven said.

North Dakota's August unemployment rate was 3.4 percent. The September 2002 figure was 3.1 percent.

"This is our typical seasonal high level of employment," North Dakota Job Service executive director Maren Daley said Friday, noting that September employment reached 354,851, up from 347,161 in September of 2002.


"Our teachers are back in school, there's still a lot of construction going on and there's still a lot of farm work with the beet harvest. Employment is absolutely running full-tilt."

The national rate for this September was 5.8 percent. Minnesota's rate in September was 4.4 percent.

Eleven of North Dakota's 53 counties in September had unemployment rates lower than 2 percent, including Cass County, which had 1.9 percent.

Steele County, northwest of Fargo-Moorhead, had the lowest rate at 1.1 percent.

"Until 9/11, we were right there, at 2 percent or below," said Urban Weber, area director for Job Service North Dakota in Fargo. "We expected we'd get back there."

Despite the low unemployment rate, most employers are able to fill positions, he said.

"Overall, we really have a pretty adequate labor supply," Weber said.

Employee shortages are most keen in medical professions, specifically, for specialists and registered nurses needed at hospitals and nursing homes. "They have trouble finding people for less attractive shifts," Weber said.


Those employers having trouble filling positions might have to look at compensation. "Certain employers are always struggling, if they're not competitive with wages and benefits. Then it's not so much a supply-and-demand issue, but has more to do with working conditions," Weber said.

Wells Fargo & Co. economist Sung Won Sohn, who visited Moorhead on behalf of local Wells Fargo banks Wednesday, warned that out-migration from North Dakota and Fargo could hinder state and local economies.

Cass County's low rate -- which compares with a similarly low 2.1 percent unemployment rate in Clay County -- reflects a fairly stable Fargo-Moorhead economy, Sohn said Friday from his Minneapolis office.

"You've been healthy even in the tech and manufacturing sectors," he said. Still, he added, the low unemployment rate could scare off potential new employers.

"When you have out-migration, that obviously reduces the labor force," Sohn said. "For a potential employer, that's a concern. If he's thinking of Fargo, he has to ask: 'Do I have enough qualified people there.' "

Job Service's Daley said North Dakota has always met the challenge when companies come in or expand. "Unemployment numbers don't tell the whole story," she said.

"Even though we have low unemployment, we have areas in the state with significant underemployment, where people already working -- in jobs below their abilities -- create an additional pool of workers for new and expanding companies."

Brian Walters, president of the Fargo-Cass County Economic Development Corp., said the low unemployment rate likely reflects some of the 19 company expansions his agency has worked with this calendar year.


"We're seeing a lot of companies expanding their employment base," Walters said.

Further, he said, new operations coming to Fargo, such as PepsiAmericas, Sysco and Alien Technologies, are already having an impact on employment.

"With PepsiAmericas, there has already been some hiring, and I think we're seeing the effect of that in our work force," Walters said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Gerry Gilmour at (701) 241-5560

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