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Job Service offices start closing due to $4.1M shortfall in budget

GRAFTON -- Job Service North Dakota in Grafton is open for the first time in two weeks, but only temporarily. For the next few months, the office will be open just two days per month--9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. on the first and third Th...

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Claribel Almonte, left, client service representative and Margie Romo, core service specialist at MET work out of their office in the Job Service Building in Grafton. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAFTON -- Job Service North Dakota in Grafton is open for the first time in two weeks, but only temporarily.

For the next few months, the office will be open just two days per month--9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays.

Then, the Grafton office and six others in the state will close.

"We're moving to a more regional-based operation, but we don't want to leave our customers hanging," said Keith Reitmeier, northeast North Dakota area manager, whose office is in Grand Forks.

After that, job seekers and employers will have to rely on Job Service's website, www.jobsnd.com , or travel to a regional center. For those in Walsh and Pembina counties, the closest office will be in Grand Forks, which is about 40 miles southeast of Grafton and 80 miles southeast of Cavalier, N.D.

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Similar schedules are in effect for other offices that are closing, including Beulah, Harvey, New Town, Oakes, Rolla and Valley City.

The closures, which eliminate 60 jobs statewide, is part of Job Service's effort to cover a $4.1 million budget shortfall at a time of record filings for unemployment insurance benefits, Executive Director Cheri Geisen said when the announcement was made.

The agency has a two-year, $65 million budget and is 97 percent federally funded. But it has experienced steady to declining federal funding over the past decade, with a 7 percent decrease in funding since 2005, not adjusted for inflation, she said.

Reitmeier said the agency will maintain its temporary office schedule in Grafton through April, with the possibility that it may be extended for another month or two.

Those in Pembina and Walsh counties with questions regarding Job Service should visit the Grand Forks branch or call (701) 795-3700 .," he said. "We'll do our best to serve them out of our office."

Local impact

It's too early to tell just how much of an impact the change will have on employers and job seekers.

"Will it have an impact? Most definitely," said Julie Campbell, executive director of Walsh County Job Development Authority, based in Grafton. "I know Job Service in Grand Forks has said they will work to minimize the impact, but it won't be the same as having the office here."

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As of Tuesday, the Job Service website listed 124 jobs available in Walsh County and 78 in Pembina County.

CHS Inc., an agricultural cooperative, listed 13 openings in Pembina County, while Shopko Hometown listed 12 at its Grafton store, plus another 11 jobs at its store in Cavalier, the Pembina County seat.

In November, the unemployment rate in Pembina County was 4.3 percent, tied for the fifth highest in North Dakota, while the jobless rate in Walsh County was 3.7 percent, the ninth highest in the state.

North Dakota's unemployment rate was 2.4 percent in November.

In 2015, the Grafton office served an average of 138 clients per month, said Kayla Finley, a Job Service North Dakota public information officer.

Tera Larson, manager of Grafton's Shopko, recently moved to Grafton from Roseau, Minn., where another Shopko is located.

"There are a lot of businesses in town that want help. And not having an office in Grafton is going to hurt," she said. "Just losing the access to the computer is going affect us."

Job Service offices have computers available for job seekers to use for finding jobs and submitting applications. With the Grafton office closed all but two days a month, she said, the company likely will have a more difficult time filling positions.

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Marvin Windows and Doors, Grafton's largest employer, is in a position to adjust to the change.

"The Job Service of North Dakota has been a valuable partner to us," said Berit Griffin, public relations program manager for Marvin Windows. "We have frequently combined forces for job fairs and appreciate their help with finding candidates.

"While it is unfortunate that their hours are being reduced, Marvin Windows and Doors' Grafton facility is well-positioned to continue to attract and retain employees. We are continuing to make good use of the Job Service of North Dakota's online job service."

Lost assets

The Grafton Job Service office closure means lost jobs for two employees: Mary Houdek, a longtime customer service manager, and Marta Balderas, a customer service consultant.

"They were very active in the community," said Campbell, adding that they have been instrumental in the success of recent job fairs held in Pembina and Walsh counties.

Houdek has served on the Red River Regional Council for the past decade and serves on the Pembina and Walsh county job development authorities, as well as the Grafton Economic Development Committee.

"It pains us to see the personal impact on these fine folks who have been outstanding public servants for more than two decades," said Dawn Keeley, executive director of the Regional Council. "We will miss these services in our rural communities in northeastern North Dakota."

Frustration

People stopping by the Grafton office over the past two weeks have found locked doors--even though the building has not been empty.

Job Service leases office space to Motivation Education and Training Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides employment and training services. The program is funded by the National Farmworker Jobs Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The program, based in New Caney, Texas, operates in five states: Texas, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wyoming.

"We help seasonal and migrant farm workers get training and find year-round employment," said Claribel Almonte, a client service representative.

But over the past couple of weeks, she and co-worker Margie Romo have dealt with some frustrated Job Service clients.

"In January, more claims are filed than any other time," Reitmeier said, adding that some Job Service clients have directed their frustrations toward MET staff. "So, they've locked their doors. Their clients have to call to get in."

However, with Job Service closing, she said MET probably will move to another Grafton location sometime later this year.

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The Grafton office of Job Service ND recently closed. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: GRAFTONPEMBINA COUNTY
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