Legislature to address workforce shortage in January

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BISMARCK, N.D. - North Dakota has more than 14,000 open jobs, but only a 2.6 percent unemployment rate as of August. The state is struggling to recruit workers. When the legislature returns in January, it will be attacking the problem.

The interim taxation committee passed two bills draft on to the full legislature. One gets as much as $20 million into scholarship programs to recruit students into technical skills programs. The other revives a tax credit incentivizing businesses to reinvest in their business. Legislators say this is just the start of trying to fix a serious problem and they’ll need to invest more than pocket change.

"We knew that it was going to take more than a couple million dollars to get this done. $10 million ends up being a really good match number to help drive some power and some horsepower into this program,” said Rep Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo.

The solution is two-fold: One bill draft would create a scholarship program for North Dakota universities. The program would create a scholarship fund for certain trade educational programs. The total investment could be as much as $20 million but only half from the state.

"A one-to-one match from industry. This is a partnership with industry and the state of North Dakota,” said Sen. Jessica Unruh, R-Beulah.

The other would reinstate a tax credit for manufacturers spending money to upgrade their business. That starts at a $2 million cap, but Unruh didn't think the issue should be revived.

"We took a deep dive into that during the last interim. We decided that it was best to eliminate the program during our last interim study,” said Unruh.

"To make those capital investments so they can increase their production output and continue to grow our economy without having to have the workforce shortage issues of the state restricting their growth,” said Beadle.

Both say there will be more discussion on the final numbers during session. The committee looked at three other bills, two that repeal internship and workforce recruitment credits and another that would put an end date on renaissance zone. They didn't take any action.