5 Parts of the Country with Labor Shortages

PHOTO: Larry Boutilier, hardware manager, who has been with the Minot, N.D. Menards since 1996, looks over paperwork at the store on Nov. 29, 2012; The home improvement retailer says it will hire workers from its home base in Wisconsin and fly them to Nor
Jesse D. Watson/The Minot Daily News/AP Photo

Friday's jobs report will likely continue to show the troubling picture for low-skill workers, but some regions of the country are in dire need of workers.

In the booming oil country around Minot, N.D., for example, Menards, a home improvement chain, is having trouble filling jobs. Its solution is to fly 50 workers in weekly from its headquarters in Wisconsin, then house the staffers in hotels.

Stephen Bronars, chief economist with Welch Consulting, said the biggest labor shortages, by far, are in North Dakota.

Bismarck's unemployment rate is 2.2 percent, the lowest in the country among metropolitan areas, and Minot's unemployment rate is also low at 2.4 percent. But what may be the lowest rate in the state is the 0.7 percent unemployment rate in Williston, N.D., which is the midst of an energy boom.

"Employment is also growing at retailers, hotels, restaurants and in other industries as well," Bronars said.

Here are five areas in the country with labor shortages:

North Dakota

PHOTO: Larry Boutilier, hardware manager, who has been with the Minot, N.D. Menards since 1996, looks over paperwork at the store on Nov. 29, 2012; The home improvement retailer says it will hire workers from its home base in Wisconsin and fly them to Nor
Jesse D. Watson/The Minot Daily News/AP Photo
Menards Flies Workers to North Dakota from Wisconsin

Menards, based in Eau Claire, Wis., has 270 home improvement stores throughout the Midwest. Its store in Minot, N.D. is the only big-box retailer in the town, which has grown from 36,500 people in 2000 to 41,000 in 2010, the Associated Press reported.

"It is very difficult for employers to attract and retain enough workers to meet their demand in virtually all sectors and industries in North Dakota," Bronars said.

The store manager, Phil Graef, told the AP the store is the busiest he's seen in the five years since he started there. Last year, the city survived record flooding, but the population has grown because of North Dakota's oil boom.

"Everybody has a 'now-hiring' sign in their window," Graef said.


PHOTO: A construction worker climbs on the roof of a home as he helps build a Toll Brothers Inc. home in the Azura community on November 20, 2012 in Boca Raton, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Home Builders in Short Supply in Tampa

Partly because of the housing recovery, home builders in Tampa, Fla., are reporting a shortage of construction workers. Many workers left the region after the economic crisis of 2008. Now, with new home construction on the rise, contractors are in need of able bodies, and a delay in construction could, at the worst, delay the region's economic recovery, the Tampa Tribune reported.

Read more: Home Prices Rise Sixth Month in a Row


PHOTO: Mark Morrell picks over his Jona Gold apples at Walters' Fruit Ranch on September 18, 2006 in Green Bluff, Washington in this file photo.
Jeff T. Green/Getty Images
Apple Orchards, Asparagus Growers Report Farm Labor Shortage

Washington state apple and asparagus farmers both reported a shortage of workers this year, reflecting a nationwide lack of farmhands. Back in the summer, when the asparagus harvest was completed, Bryan Lynch, co-owner of LF Farms in Washington, said his yield was lower than usual because of fewer workers to harvest the crop, the Tri-City Herald reported.

The reasons behind a shortage of workers in agriculture vary. Some laborers decide the work is too hard, or have the misconception that there is not work available, even as the economy picks up. In North Carolina, some farmers said a lack of workers may be due to a diminishing number of migrant workers from Mexico. Diminishing illegal immigration into the U.S. and a growing job market in Mexico may be factors, the News & Observer newspaper reported.

Bronars points out that shortages in farm labor are sometimes misunderstood, because the prices and profits from mechanized crops, such as corn, tend to dominate the aggregate financial data for the sector. Crops such as apples and asparagus are much more labor intensive and more adversely affected by increases in labor costs because these crops are picked by hand.

In Oregon and Washington the average cost of farm labor was $12 per hour in 2012, up about 10 percent from 2011.

"Increases in farm labor costs may be difficult to pass on to consumers because domestic producers face intense competition from foreign producers," he said.

For example, in 1990 the U.S. imported only 30 percent of the fresh asparagus the country consumed; but today, imports account for 90 percent of asparagus consumption.

"Many growers rely on seasonal workers from foreign countries who work here through the H-2A visa program, but in recent years it has become increasingly difficult and costly for employers to legally bring these workers in to harvest crops," he said.


PHOTO: A vehicle travels down Canal Street as Hurricane Isaac dumps heavy rain on August 29, 2012 in New Orleans, La.
Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post
New Orleans Blames Debris Removal Delay on Worker Shortage

In New Orleans, a city official said a lack of workers delayed removal of debris, such as tree limbs and leaves, after Hurricane Isaac. The city and its contractor said they have had to recruit laborers from out of state.

"Each day we have more equipment and more labor because our contractors are having to recruit from out of state," Michelle Thomas, New Orleans' deputy mayor of operations, said, the Times-Picayune reported.

Manufacturing sector

PHOTO: In this Nov. 16, 2012 photo, employees work at a shipping area of Generac Power Systems, Inc., one of the largest makers of residential generators in the U.S., in Whitewater, Wis.
Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo
Factory Worker Shortage May Rise

In the next 10 years, the shortage of highly skilled workers could increase to 875,000 to from 80,000 to 100,000 workers now, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

While the U.S. may create as many as 5 million manufacturing and supporting jobs by 2020, factory workers are beginning to age and retire, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"It's much less of an issue in larger communities, where supply and demand evens out more efficiently thanks to the bigger pool of workers," said Harold Sirkin, senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group. "Investment in training and skills development needs to be stepped up, but there's little reason to believe that the U.S. cannot remain on track for a manufacturing renaissance by 2020."

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