Jim Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, said a shortage of workers is the biggest issue facing the community.
Technology companies in particular are feeling the strain.
“We always have probably 20-30 openings … That’s just our campus,” said Don Morton, site leader for Fargo’s Microsoft campus. “… There’s not a technology company in the world – big, small, mid-market – I can bet right now that doesn’t have jobs posted.”
Camille Grade of the Fargo-based mobile software development company Myriad Mobile said they are not seeing enough applicants.
“It’s not like people are flooding the market,” said Grade, marketing and communications manager. “That employment rate here is very low, and it’s difficult to find people for some of these positions.”
The emerging technology community in Fargo-Moorhead is particularly competitive.
Morton said the three area colleges simply do not produce enough computer science students to fill Fargo’s needs.
“When I applied, they were basically more than willing because it’s very hard to find high skilled labor here in the U.S., especially in this region,” Gaurav Kumar Nayak, a software engineer with Microsoft originally from India, said. “This region is not Silicon Valley. We don’t have colleges like Stanford.”
Fargo’s climate also poses a challenge to recruiters looking to bring software developers into the region.
Jon Walters, human resource manager at Myriad Mobile, said if tech companies can’t recruit to the area, they begin fighting amongst themselves.
“We don’t want to create a paradigm of business strategy of constantly head-hunting each other in this community,” he said.
Gartin said not having access to the world’s talent pool has somewhat limited the Fargo tech industry’s ability to grow.
“You can’t ask businesses in this marketplace to compete on a global basis and not give them the ability to compete for labor on the same basis,” he said.
Gartin said Fargo-Moorhead has over 7,000 total available positions but only about 3,000 unemployed to fill them.
“It’s not that they’re taking jobs from anybody,” he said. “We’re just trying to fill positions to sustain our economy.”
Foreign students who cannot secure a job with a large company that can afford to sponsor their work visa are forced to leave the country or go back to school rather than joining the workforce.
“I think that’s where that great loss to our community and our country is happening right now,” Gartin said.
Foreign nationals are also more likely to start their own business.
Nayak said some of his foreign national friends at Microsoft are interested in starting a business but are unable due to current visa restrictions.
“These guys are talented, and they’re looking to do start ups and other stuff,” Nayak said. “It’s just, for them, it’s really not feasible right now. For them it’s almost like a dream to basically start a company here in U.S.”
The series of executive actions issued by President Barack Obama on immigration included expansions for entrepreneurs, but Gartin said it’s still not enough.
“We’re at a tipping point,” he said. “I mean, it’s right here, right now. We have to figure out ways to get people into this marketplace for us to sustain growth.
“… The thought that we’re being asked to compete on a world-wide basis and not being able to compete for labor on a world-wide basis is slowing this economy down and will continue to slow it down until reform is made.”