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Youth appeal: Workforce issues top roundtable discussion

Jill Schramm/MDN Presley Bennett, a sophomore at Central Campus, addresses the governor during a roundtable discussion Friday. At left are roundtable participants Janna Pastir, of the N.D. Health Department, and Minot State University President Steve Shirley.

Young people are seeking their futures in communities with entrepreneurial opportunities, varied leisure activities and residents who work together in bipartisan ways.

That was the message of Minot High School students who participated in the Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative Roundtable in Minot Friday. The roundtable’s participants from state and local organizations and businesses heard the message and said they are on it.

The roundtable had 35 participants. About 50 community residents and 200 students attended.

“There’s no doubt as I talk to fellow business leaders, the number one barrier to growth and economic development is workforce,” said Kevin Black, CEO with Creedence Energy Services. “We battle it every day in the oil and gas industry. I truly believe as many of my fellow entrepreneurs believe, that education is really the most potent tool to solving that, whether it’s high school education, CTE or higher education. Having access to a trained workforce is critical, and having those students being able to have affordable education, accessible education, education that is relevant to the needs of the state is incredibly important.”

“Our biggest issue, too, is labor, labor, labor. If we can figure that out, a lot of the other activities can fall in place,” said Taylor Wilson, Trinity Health chief financial officer. The state’s efforts to support child care to allow parents to work is significant for Trinity, he added.

“We have one of the largest generations in American history retiring — the Baby Boomer generation,” Minot City Manager Harold Stewart said. “So at the same time we’ve seen substantial job growth — historically high growth — your workforce is shrinking. And what that translates into, I think, for Minot and everyone else is, ‘how do we begin to compete for that next generation?’ It’s not enough to sit back and watch what everyone else is doing and copy, because all that does is keep us on the top of the bell curve. What we need to do is get out in front of the bell curve.”

Jersey Johnson, a high school senior, works for a local business and talked about her desire to see the state support local businesses because she hopes to eventually own one.

Lydia Repnow, a high school junior, talked about bipartisanship and working together as key factors in a community that will attract young residents.

“That’s something that a lot of younger people, a lot of my peers, are very concerned about — how divided our state is,” Repnow said. “I think that is a huge thing — bipartisan working together, building a stronger community. And that will keep us here.”

Carter Mowbray, a senior, said he plans to get a degree in mechanical engineering and return to Minot to work for his family’s business. An avid fisherman who enjoys North Dakota’s outdoors, he also suggested more year-round events to improve the local quality of life.

Presley Bennett, a sophomore, stressed the importance of a sense of community. That includes access to social events and new activities. Bennett reported on a recent survey she conducted that showed a paintball facility or destruction room — a place where participants can smash junk for fun — would be popular.

Justin Anderson, executive director for the Minot Area Council of the Arts, said the national trend among youth is to find the place they want to live first and then seek work there.

“More than ever in our nation’s history, at least modern history with the possible exception of the ’30s and Works Progress Administration, arts and culture has become a more powerful and more important aspect of daily life and attraction and retention of a citizenry in a city,” he said. “We can have roads and electricity and plumbing, and, of course, fiber optics are very important. But how often do you hear somebody say that they’re really happy in the city that they live in because the roads are good? They go somewhere and they stay there because of the opportunities they see beyond their job.”

Kim Konikow, executive director of the North Dakota Council on the Arts, echoed that sentiment.

“I would say that it’s really important to attract people to relocate, but it is more than labor. It’s about health, vibrant communities, and that’s what Minot seems to be moving towards. So keep inviting arts and culture to the table. We need to be at the table in order to help you think creatively,” she said.

Katie Ralston Howe, director of the Workforce Division in the Department of Commerce, said her division is looking at the dynamic between place and job opportunities with young people. The division soon will be launching a new initiative to help people connect with jobs in places where they want to be, she said.

Christopher Scott, newly elected president of the the North Dakota Student Association, also stressed the need for more bipartisan legislation as well as more resources for mental health, which has become a significant issue among students in higher education.

Trinity Health also listed mental health resources as one of its greatest challenges.

“That’s a growing problem, and I think we in Minot and northwest North Dakota will continue to gain traction and work together,” said Randy Schwan, a Trinity vice president. “But I think it’s going to take considerable private-public partnership to solve that.”

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