What if North Dakota Paid People to Move Here?

“Workforce is one of the three pillars of our Main Street Initiative and the single biggest barrier to our economic growth, and we needed a new way of finding solutions to this critical challenge,” Governor Doug Burgum said in a recent press release.

The release was announcing a new initiative – a survey to be conducted in conjunction with the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce – aimed at addressing North Dakota’s chronic labor shortages.

“There are more than 14,000 open jobs posted with Job Service North Dakota,” Labor Commissioner Michelle Kommer said in the same press release, but the actual number of unfilled jobs is likely significantly higher since not all open jobs are posted with Job Service.

North Dakota needs to diversify the state economy. Energy and agriculture are our largest industries – and they’re hugely important, don’t get me wrong – but they leave our state in the thrall of the commodity markets. A more diverse state economy would get us off the oil-and-crop-prices roller coaster.

The problem with diversifying, though, is how exactly you go about attracting new businesses and industry to the state without an available pool of workers.

There isn’t any single “silver bullet” solution to this issue, but maybe the folks in Vermont have an idea which could work here in North Dakota.

What if we paid people to move here?

“Vermont’s government has pledged to pay some lucky American citizens up to $10,000 to up sticks to the stunning Green Mountain State,” CNN reports.

The state’s new initiative, signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott on May 30, aims to bolster these numbers with young mobile workers.

The money will be available as a grant to prospective Vermonters on a first-come, first-serve basis from January 1, 2019. The sum will be received over two years with each worker qualified to receive up to $5,000 a year.

The cash is designed to cover the cost of relocating, including broadband access and membership of a co-working space.

A total of $125,000 will be available for the program in 2019, followed by $250,000 in 2020 and $125,000 in 2021.

This program is targeted at people who work from home. People who already have jobs do little to address North Dakota’s workforce needs. But a lot of those people will bring spouses and children with them, and those people could perhaps help.

I’ll admit to being skeptical of this sort of initiative, but it may be time to give it a try. Politicians in our state have been talking about how to diversify our economy and address labor shortages for about as long as I can remember. Our state government regulates with a relative light touch. Our tax burdens here are, in the aggregate, not burdensome. What seems to be holding us back is the perception many outside North Dakota have of our state, which is that it’s cold and desolate and generally a miserable place to live.

Those things aren’t true. And maybe if we gave some people willing to give our state a shot a financial boost, we could get over that hump.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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