About 75 people gathered at the Frosty Fox cafe in Grafton on Wednesday, May 5, to hear the results of the survey at a town hall meeting hosted by the Red River Regional Council and Grafton City Council. An additional 25 people attended the meeting virtually.
A survey of 17 manufacturing and agricultural processing businesses in Grafton and nearby communities was conducted last fall. Earlier this spring, the Red River Regional Council conducted a similar survey of smaller, locally owned businesses.
According to the results of the survey of manufacturing and agricultural processing companies – which included Motor Coach Industries, in Pembina, N.D.; Marvin in Grafton; and Arrow Industries in Neche, N.D. – businesses will need to hire 400 employees within the next five years to replace workers who will be retiring. More than 70% of them already have had difficulty recruiting for new positions.
Meanwhile, 94% of the businesses hope to expand and 71% want to hire more workers within the next two years, the survey said.
Andy Allen, Marvin general manager of the Grafton plant, told attendees at the meeting that increasing housing for a wide demographic would benefit the manufacturing company. Meanwhile, increasing the options for child care would be another advantage, he said.
“That would be a huge game changer for our employees who work a shift schedule,” Allen said.
The Red River Regional Council spring survey of 32 smaller businesses – retail stores, personal services and health care facilities – found that 400 jobs will be available in the next two years as workers retire and the businesses expand. Of those jobs, roughly 90 are in health care.
Overall, each small business will need to hire, on average, three employees, the survey said.
The Grafton community’s strengths include quality schools and health care facilities and economic potential, the survey respondents said. On the flip side, the scarcity of workers, stagnant mindsets and lack of housing options are among the challenges.
“We must embrace change,” Mayor Chris West said during the meeting.
One of the issues the City Council and Grafton Economic Development are addressing is making the city’s website easier to navigate and linking various organizations in the city to it, West said. The website should be a kind of “one-stop shop” where people can find information about Grafton and its businesses, he said.
West was glad to see a good turnout for Wednesday’s meeting.
“We’re all in this together, and we need to work on this as a group, not separately,” he said.
“We need your salesmanship, we need your knowledge, your dreams,” he said. “We know that the private sector is where most things happen.”
Andy Petersen, who works at Choice Bank in Grafton, encouraged business owners to reach out to the community’s young people for ideas.
“The same people have been involved in Grafton for the past 30 years,” he said. Petersen has made it a goal to get young people to attend future meeting.
“Get that next person involved,” he advised attendees.