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Sen. Heitkamp holds roundtable in Rugby

By Staff | Jul 22, 2016

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), right, talks with a local resident at a recent roundtable in Rugby.

“Every location has a unique interest,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) about visits with business and civic leaders, “but the major themes keep coming, and those are housing, workforce development, how to keep kids here, and rural healthcare.”

Some major themes were discussed Tuesday morning, when Heitkamp held a roundtable at Rockin’ Relics in Rugby.

Mike Graner, administrator at the Heart of America Correctional & Treatment Center, said that attracting and retaining potential employees is a big issue for area businesses, including the jail.

Craig Johnson, of Merchants Bank, agreed, saying that bigger cities are considered more often than Rugby by young professionals.

Heart of America- Johnson Clinic Administrator Jeremiah Lindgren said housing is an issue when trying to attract employees.

Steve Dockter said that Envision is currently in need of an agronomist, but it is tough to compete with bigger cities or areas with more potential opportunities. Dockter also said the presence or absence of natural gas and daycare are also issues.

“I’m guilty of saying ‘Come to Rugby, it costs less (to live here)’,” Dockter said. “No, it doesn’t, there’s less to spend money on.”

Daunne Heilman, owner of i design, said she currently has three high school students doing jobs one adult with experience could do. Heilman also said she has gone to college employment preview days, meeting with students and showing i design’s benefits package, to which Heilman said she has received “not a call.”

“There’s this economy of one income, or they don’t want to move here because they think they’ll either make under $40,000 or live in a house in a bad neighborhood,” Heilman said.

Gary Kraft, director of Rugby’s Farm Service Agency office, said that when seeking employees, employers sometimes have to compete with government assistance programs.

“It’s not just that we’re not paying enough, some don’t want to work,” Kraft said. “That’s one little item in the big picture.”

Heitkamp asked whether addiction played a role in abuse of government assistance programs, saying that in oil patch some people were employed despite not passing drug tests.

Rob St. Michel, owner of St. Michel Furniture stores, said that he has been trying for months to hire a quality applicant for a salesperson, and that he worries a push for a steep climb in the national minimum wage would hurt a workforce of high-school age workers more than it would help.

Heitkamp said that housing is an issue that will need to be strategically handled.

(NOTE: Rockin’ Relics is owned by the Berginski family.)

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