« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Andy Peterson, Published June 23 2013

Letter: Diverse economy needs a diverse ND workforce

By all accounts, the economy is booming in North Dakota. We are fortunate to have such a low unemployment rate – several points below the national average. The successes North Dakota is having are, in many respects, assisted by good public policy and leaders who are committed to fostering a welcoming business environment.

Our recent economic success is often associated with our energy production, but our manufacturing and food production industries are also helping to keep North Dakota moving. I think many Americans would also be surprised to learn of our ties to the technology sector. Just look at the “digital alliance” struck between Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Microsoft this year to help more rural young people have access to technology education. A lot of our nation’s economy is moving toward technology, and North Dakota is at the forefront.

A diverse economy needs a diverse workforce. Having job growth in the technology field as well as manufacturing and agriculture means we need workers of all skill levels. When companies are looking for employees, having a low employment rate is actually not a benefit to our economic growth. Companies need to be able to find people to hire – and in some cases, highly skilled people.

Fortunately, there is a nationwide discussion that will help us here in North Dakota. The U.S. Senate is considering comprehensive immigration reform legislation. This is a political issue that has been around for decades, but this is the first time in recent history that the effort has been so bipartisan. A group of four Republican and four Democratic senators were able to put together legislation that addresses many aspects of the currently broken system.

A new poll just released by the Partnership for a New American Economy shows North Dakotans strongly support reform efforts. Sixty-eight percent of those polled say they support the “Gang of Eight” legislation currently being debated in Washington. What’s more, 88 percent express a sense of urgency in passing the bill quickly to avoid the loss of bipartisanship that generally occurs during election years.

Probably most important to businesses in North Dakota are the changes that will make the visa system more market-driven. When businesses need more workers, more visas will be made available. The reformed system will take into consideration which types of workers are in demand. Not to mention, overall, employment visas will increase.

The time is now to modernize our broken immigration system. Washington is too often seen as having a toxic environment where it is nearly impossible to accomplish good public policy. All indications are that on comprehensive immigration reform, leaders from both parties are setting aside that toxic fight and working to actually accomplish something that we can be proud of. In many ways, that is a reflection of the “North Dakota way,” and it is something we can be proud of.

I am encouraged and confident that our Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., will join in the bipartisan effort to pass this bill. We encourage them to work in Washington to foster the kind of business climate that allows a state like North Dakota to continue to lead the nation.

Peterson is president and CEO, Greater North Dakota Chamber.