Plain Talk: North Dakota’s oil industry wants refugees and immigrants to fill oil field jobs


Watford City (N.D.) Mayor Brent Sanford speaks to the press Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Fargo after his primary win with running mate Doug Burgum. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MINOT, N.D. — Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine has displaced millions of Ukrainians, most of whom need a place to go.

Meanwhile, North Dakota has a long-enduring workforce shortage that is felt most acutely in the state’s oil fields.

Now, those two problems are coming together to form what is, if not a solution, is at least a way to mitigate some suffering while simultaneously creating some new opportunities.

Former Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, who stepped down from Gov. Doug Burgum’s administration late last year, is now the project manager of what North Dakota’s oil industry has dubbed Bakken GROW. The acronym stands for Global Recruitment of Oilfield Workers, and it’s precisely what it sounds like. A concerted effort to match Ukranians, who need an escape from their homelands, with jobs in North Dakota’s oil industry.

“It’s not only a workforce recruitment effort, it’s a humanitarian effort too,” Sanford said on this episode of Plain Talk.

“The United States is not good at legal immigration,” he added, but hopes this program can make a difference. He says it will begin with Ukrainians — there is already a sizable Ukrainian community in western North Dakota, and he says they’re reaching out to organizations like the Ukrainian Catholic Church to help with the effort — but the hope is to target potential refugees and immigrants from other countries and ethnic backgrounds as well.

Also, on this episode, state Rep. Corey Mock joined co-host Ben Hanson and me to talk about the ongoing debate over North Dakota’s public worker pension. We disagreed a lot, but we did find some common ground around the idea that there are no easy solutions to this mess, and that a lot of the lawmakers in Bismarck on both sides of the debate are ignoring some pretty brutal fiscal realities.

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