North Dakota’s rural small businesses facing significant workforce challenges

(Source and Credit: The Center Square) – Small businesses in rural North Dakota are having a difficult time attracting and retaining workers, forcing some businesses to completely overhaul the way they operate.

“Whether it’s in rural communities or in larger cities, our small business owners across the board are having a hard time finding workers, Alison Ritter, North Dakota state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, told The Center Square. “Forty-six percent of our members had job openings they could not fill. Overall, 64% said they were hiring or trying to hire in September. That’s up one point from the month before.”

As a result, some employers are resorting to asking workers to pull double shifts, reducing operating hours, and in the worst cases, closing the business completely.

The U.S. Small Business Administration said in 2021 that small businesses, most with 20 employees or less, make up 98.8% of North Dakota businesses. Last year, small businesses employed nearly 200,000 people across the state.

These small businesses – these shops, restaurants, health centers, gas stations and other essential services – are the lifeblood of rural communities.

“Our NFIB small business owners say that labor quality is their number one problem,” Ritter said. “Staffing shortages have limited small business owners’ ability to fully take advantage of the opportunity they have to sell their product as they struggle with business operations like supply chain issues and inflation.”

Another concern in rural towns is the aging workforce and what will happen when that generation retires if no one is learning those skills and preparing for the future. In response, the Small Business Administration, North Dakota Small Business Development Centers, Bank of North Dakota and rural banking associations have teamed up to create and promote a succession planning guide, hoping to start the conversation among rural business owners.

“What our small business owners want is clear: they would like lower taxes and less government red tape for the freedom to operate their business,” Ritter said. “When you give entrepreneurs the leeway to operate their business the way they want to, it means more jobs for North Dakota and the ability to invest in their communities and North Dakota a better place to live, work and play.”