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Menards Can't Hire Enough Hands In Booming N.D.


North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, fueled by a booming oil economy. In fact, it's been so hard to find workers in Minot, North Dakota, in the north central part of the state, that one big box store is flying them in from Wisconsin. Dan Feldner of the Minot Daily News joins me to talk about it. And Dan, we're talking about the home improvement retailer Menards. The headquarters is in Au Claire, Wisconsin.

How many workers are they going to be flying in?

DAN FELDNER: They're hoping to have around 50 total.

BLOCK: Fifty total and they're flying them back and forth, 500 miles each way. They're paying for food and lodging, is that right?

FELDNER: Yes. Yep, they sure are.

BLOCK: And starting pay?

FELDNER: I believe it's $13 an hour.

BLOCK: Okay. And by Minot's standards, how is that salary?

FELDNER: That's probably right in the middle or so. A lot of businesses have had to raise their salaries in the last couple of years to compete with the oil fields, so that's probably right in the middle.

BLOCK: And there really aren't enough people there in Minot to take these jobs at Menards?

FELDNER: No. With the oil field paying such higher wages compared to most of the other businesses, there's a ton of openings and there's way more jobs than there are people to fill them.

BLOCK: And when you talk to people at Menards, it makes economic sense to them to fly workers in, pay for their expenses, fly them home, bring them back? That's worth it to have these workers there?

FELDNER: Yeah. Phil Graef, the general manager of the Minot Menards I talked with, he said that it's not really about a dollars and cents proposition to them. It's about providing superior customer service. And they're more worried about, you know, helping out the customers that walk through the doors and giving them great experience rather than the strict bottom line.

So to them, it makes sense.

BLOCK: Dan, when you drive around Minot, what kind of signs do you see of the flush economy right now?

FELDNER: Probably the biggest thing is just there's a ton of building going on everywhere. There's busy new hotels popping up seemingly every week, others, there's new restaurants, new businesses and, of course, a bunch of new housing and apartments. Construction's probably the biggest sign that you can easily see that Minot is experiencing huge growth and a huge economic boom.

BLOCK: Well, is there any down side to this boom economy there in North Dakota, do you think?

FELDNER: Well, there's, you know, there's a few. One of the most noticeable probably is the hit to our infrastructure. Roads can be really bad. You know, there's not enough employees for the county and the state and the city to, you know, to patch those roads up so the heavy truck traffic, it can make things a little more dangerous for cars. I guess, wage wise, a lot of the oil field wages have cause an uptick in rents for apartments, costs for housing.

So rent and just the cost of living is going up, so it's getting a little tougher to stretch your dollar if you're not in the oil field industry.

BLOCK: Sure. You know, Dan, I think not so long ago, North Dakota was one of the states where young people left. There was just really no way to make a living in small town North Dakota. It sounds like it must be a very different picture now. Are young people staying around?

FELDNER: Yeah, I think they have a tendency to stick around longer. You know, there's - along with the oil fields, there are a lot of open jobs, availabilities, possibilities for young people. You notice if you're in high school or college right now, there's many different careers you could choose to go into and that would allow you to stay in North Dakota, where, in the past, you know, that probably wasn't quite as true as it is today.

BLOCK: Dan Feldner covers business and agriculture with the Minot Daily News in Minot, North Dakota. Dan, thanks so much.

FELDNER: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.