North Dakota is begging for workers to fill tens of thousands of jobs. The state wants young people to either stay here or move here. It's mostly about tech and health care, leaders tell us, because the state has to move away from its age-old economy based on commodities.
North Dakota could be the next Silicon Valley! Or Seattle! It just has to be forward-thinking and innovative! Just open the door for young entrepreneurs and 20-something workers to move here and they'll stampede from all over the world!
In response to this dire workforce emergency, the always responsive North Dakota Legislature has spent much of its time in the 2019 session focusing on issues that will help draw young workers to the state. Legislators have advocated, for example:
- Getting guns into schools.
- Keeping guns in the hands of people who are suicidal, or those deemed a danger to others.
Making it harder for grassroots citizens to initiate laws.
Keeping lawmaker/lobbyist bribery on the down-low.
Denying gay people protections against workplace or housing discrimination.
Forcing public schools to teach Bible classes.
Eliminating the state's already infinitesimally low income tax.
Urging Congress to fund President Donald Trump's wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Yes, there's nothing that resonates with highly educated 25-year-olds from other parts of the country quite like an employer being free to fire somebody because they are gay.
Even better, it helps to have a theocracy-based Republican activist blast a moderate GOPer who supported the bill, citing party values, as local district chairman John Trandem did.
Seattle? This seems more like Mississippi.
Such is the condition of North Dakota politics, which is no surprise given the increasing conservatism of the state and increasingly rabid conservatism of the Legislature. It's been written in this column before: North Dakotans have made their choice loud and clear how they want the state governed and that is to be respected. A vast majority of citizens are very happy with the state of the state.
But the actions of leaders contradict their words. If North Dakota truly sees an opportunity to attract young people and offer them good-paying jobs that'll keep them here, there has to be policy to match that opportunity. At some point the state has to put out the figurative red carpet.
That has yet to happen and, looking at the aforementioned list of legislative priorities, won't anytime soon.
There was one laudable effort to deal with the state's workforce. Bills were introduced into House and Senate that would've waived senior-year tuition for students majoring in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. The Senate version, introduced by Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, was a positive attempt.
It was defeated 39-7. A similar House bill was crushed 81-11. They were probably decried as socialism, which is what Republicans have been told to attach to anything they don't like.
North Dakota apparently is willing to wait for an influx of gun-loving, pro-discrimination, theocracy-supporting millennials to fill its skilled labor shortage. That profile, plus the warm weather and mountain views available here, should make it easy.