So I took a look at the labor force data for the metropolitan statistical areas in North Dakota. That would be Bismarck, Fargo, and Grand Forks. Not content with that I also looked at the labor force data for the micropolitan statistical areas in North Dakota (Dickinson, Jamestown, Minot, Wahpeton, and Williston). I also looked at the state labor force data too.

I calculated the monthly growth rate for these areas over the 36 months from August 2010 to August 2013 (that was the latest available observation when I did this). The results were surprising to say the least. The three metro areas have a monthly growth rate that are slightly, and I mean slightly negative (Bismarck at -.097%, Fargo at -.018%, and Grand Forks at -.144%). The biggest result came from the Williston data.

The monthly growth rate of the labor force in Williston is 2.58%. I’ll type that again. Monthly growth in the labor force is 2.58% over the last 36 months. In August 2010 the labor force in Williston was 18,819, and by August 2013 it increased to 47,060. At this growth rate the labor force in Williston doubles just over every 27 months. How is a community going to keep up with such a rapid increase in the labor force? It isn’t. It is just that simple. There are too many constraints you run up against that prevent you from keeping up with such a drastic change in the local labor market.

Now what happens in the future? Good question, and an important discussion we need to start seeing happen more often. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume the growth rates we observed over the last 36 months continue into the future. I know, I know. This is hardly a realistic assumption. There is no guarantee that these factors would stay the same. For example, as Williston grows, the addition of the same number of people would represent a smaller percentage change. But if everything continues as it has for the last three years, what happens?

Simple really. Williston passes Grand Forks in labor force size in December of 2013. Yep. That’s right. Next month. If that is not enough, Williston would pass Bismarck in labor force size in July of 2014. Williston would go from 5th largest labor force behind the three metropolitan statistical areas and Minot (barely ahead of Dickinson) in August of 2010 to the second largest labor force. To pass Fargo at these rates would take until September of 2016 at current rates.

The implications from this are enormous. Resource allocation is still trying to catch up to the growth that already occurred. What is going to happen when (not if) Williston becomes the second biggest labor market in the state? There will be many policy questions for state and local leaders to tackle. Market participants, employers and employees, will need to make adjustments and there will be many impulse responses to deal with over time.

This is an enormous change to tackle, and people generally resist change. In this case change is thrust upon them, like a punch in the mouth. The discussions need to start now in communities all across the state.


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