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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Published May 25 2012

Workers wanted: ND touts jobs in non-oil counties

FARGO, N.D. — Oil barons, energy experts, politicians and even former Major League Baseball manager Tony LaRussa were in North Dakota this week to revel in the good fortune from an oil boom that has hundreds of job seekers flocking to the western part of the state.

But employers say there's also good reason to head east.

The most recent statistics compiled by Job Service North Dakota show a total of 24,059 online job postings in April, 16 percent higher than in March and 66 percent higher than one year ago. A majority of job openings, nearly 66 percent, were in counties that don't produce oil.

"That's a very, very lost fact," North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Friday.

The April numbers list 5,569 openings in Cass County, where the state's largest city, Fargo, sits on the border with Minnesota. There were 2,204 jobs in Williams County, considered the hub of oil country in northwestern North Dakota.

"The economy in the eastern half of the state is really very healthy," said Carey Fry, spokeswoman for the Job Service North Dakota office in Fargo. "So it's not like all the jobs are in the western part of the state at all."

North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3 percent. The oil patch in particular has more jobs than people looking for work. The ratio of applicants to openings in Williams County is 10 jobs for every unemployed person.

More than 4,000 people — including LaRussa, a friend of billionaire oil baron Harold Hamm — attended an energy conference in Bismarck this week to talk about an industry that's expected to add 65,000 new jobs by 2020. While that's an overwhelming number, Fry doesn't believe it will have a dramatic effect on the labor pool in eastern North Dakota.

"There may be some workers moving to the oilfields, but for the most part the jobs being filled in the oilfield aren't the same jobs being filled in the east," she said.

Occupations with the most openings in the Fargo region in April were office and administrative support (610), production (558), and sales (554). Top positions in the Williston region were construction (391) and transportation (375).

Many of the Fargo openings revolve around jobs that require advanced education or training. The Fargo region had 637 openings for business, finance, computers, math, architecture and engineering fields, as compared with 117 for those occupations in the Williston region.

Those jobs tend to be more stable, Dalrymple said.

"Some developers talk about job permanence, the ones that are most likely to last for an extended period of time," Dalrymple said. "A lot of those folks would say they like what they see in the (Fargo) region."

Ross Almlie recently founded a company in Fargo known as BreadVault, which makes online money management tools designed for families with children. Almlie said he hopes to have 20 full-time employees within three years, which he said shows the strength of the area's economy.

"To me, that's the exciting part, to see these companies pop up that people have been waiting to see for the last 10 years," said Almlie, whose company was a finalist in a state competition that offers cash rewards for the best new business ideas. "Now that the opportunity is here, there's no longer that argument that we don't have the highly-skilled jobs to attract and keep people."

Small startup tech companies are the best job creators, Dalrymple said.

"Once they set out to commercialize a breakthrough product, the pace at which they create jobs is faster than anything else and the potential for higher paying jobs is much better than anything else," the governor said.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.