How The state Is Preparing For Automation

Written by: Andrew Jason

According to Job Service ND, there were 15,122 open jobs in North Dakota in March. That number is expected to be much higher. The state believes that automation may be able to help fill those open jobs. To learn what the state is doing to prepare for automation and how it might help solve some of the state’s biggest problems, we talked to the Department of Commerce staff. 

When people think of automation, they think of jobs being replaced, however, the Workforce Development Council’s report of recommendation says, “The Council recommends that digitization and automation of business processes be an important part of the solution to address the worker shortage by remodeling and reimplementing the ‘automation credit’ eliminated during the 2017 legislative session.” This may seem counter-intuitive that automation may help solve our workforce shortage but explain how it could be a good thing.

While we understand that the topic of automation can prompt an initial reaction of concern, our country has a long history, dating back to the Industrial Revolution, of seeing automation create new and better jobs. Automation changes work by creating efficiencies, improving productivity and quality and in some cases eliminates jobs. However, as history has shown, even where jobs are replaced, new and better jobs are created. With the impending wave of highly technical automation, we expect future efforts to automate repetitive and manual work to provide new opportunities for exciting, highly skilled careers.

The timing for increased automation is right. Last summer, for the first time since records have been kept, there were more jobs open in our nation than people to fill them. The same is true here in North Dakota. There are more than 15,000 open jobs as reported by Job Service North Dakota. We believe that number to be at least twice as many based on conversations we have with businesses across the state. With one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation and the highest labor market participation rate in that nation, there are more jobs in North Dakota than qualified workers. Further, the future of work is changing. According to a 2018 study by McKinsey, by 2030, time spent using advanced technical skills across all jobs will increase by 50 percent. The same study found that the need for “basic digital sills” will increase across all job by 69 percent. As Governor Burgum often says, every company needs to become a technology company – or it will be replaced by one.

The  Workforce Development Council, made of up private sector business leaders across all industries and geographies, recognized the place automation and artificial intelligence has in solving workforce challenges by recommending investments in automation in North Dakota. North Dakota needs to be poised to do more than just adapt to the trend toward increased automation, we need to be prepared to lead. And we are, I feel, fortunate to live in a statewide community with inspired entrepreneurs, savvy business leaders and passionate citizens who are boldly committed to a successful future for our state! 

Michelle Kommer
Michelle Kommer  
Department of Commerce Commissioner 

The Agricultural Products Utilization Commission and Research ND Grant program seem like the perfect grant to encourage innovation in ag tech. Tell us more about the process and who you want to see take advantage of it. 

North Dakota offers several successful research programs with proven track records that encourage innovation within ag tech. With two amazing research universities, the region is known for its leadership and research prowess in precision agriculture. Areas include, but are not limited to, growth and development in crop research, unmanned systems, innovative farm implement development and the software applications that support a highly complex global food chain. Learning from past practices, Commerce is leading an initiative to take research programs to the next level as it is standing up intellectual property commercialization and tech transfer team in conjunction with the university system and the Bank of ND.

What services from the Department of Commerce are out there that you think are underutilized in terms of encouraging automation?

Educating and marketing Commerce services is paramount to the success of encouraging automation in ND’s primary sectors. Commerce offers the subject matter expertise to guide innovators, entrepreneurs and mature businesses through every stage of their life cycle to ensure that they can meet modern global demands. For example, ND Commerce Economic Developers can connect companies engaged in automation to partner organizations that specialize in this area. In addition, Commerce can offer special products or programs that will create an efficient and inexpensive experience for the customer during their transition. Leveraging developers in every targeted industry is sometimes underutilized and ND Commerce welcomes any company wishing to realize automation goals to contact the Department so that we can support the project and meet unique customer needs and requirements.

Why is North Dakota uniquely positioned to launch Grand Farm and be a leader in terms of innovation in automation ag tech?

North Dakota is uniquely positioned to launch the Grand Farm and be a leader in ag tech innovation due to its unique entrepreneurial spirit, roots in farming and amazing culture. We have some of the world’s premier ag tech innovators that have changed the way in which we farm from Appareo Systems to Bobcat to John Deere Electronic Solutions. It doesn’t end here as an industry, as well as UND and NDSU researchers, have brought global ag tech to new levels in precision ag. The unique cluster of tech innovators, North Dakotan can do spirit, first-class research facilities, as well as connection to the land, makes North Dakota the preeminent location for the Grand Farm.

James Leiman
James Leiman  
Director, Economic Development and Finance Division
Interim Director, Workforce Division

More education will be needed for both the current workforce and future workers to handle these high tech jobs. How is the state thinking about that education for both people who are currently in the workforce but also those who are still in K-12?

The state of North Dakota realizes that the 21st-century workforce is highly digital, ever-changing and at a high risk for cyber attack. To prepare students and workers for the challenges of this environment, we have created integrated computer and cyber science standards available for all K-12 schools, as well as leveraging the ND University System to offer cutting edge computer and cyber technology courses. The complete integration of 21st-century skills across all grades, Kindergarten through Ph.D., creates a foundational platform for the workers of tomorrow.

Shawn Riley
Shawn Riley
Chief Information Officer 
Governor Burgum Cabinet

Programs Available from the Department of Commerce

North Dakota offers many finance and tax incentives to benefit primary sector businesses. Below is a listing of different financing, tax incentives and training opportunities. Make sure you do your research to see if you qualify for these. 

Agricultural Products Utilization Commission
The mission of APUC is to create new wealth and employment opportunities through the development of new and expanded uses of North Dakota agricultural products. 

Community Development Block Grant/Loan Fund
These funds are awarded to communities for real property, site improvements and infrastructure, and can fund working capital. They are designed to assist primary sector and retail sector businesses looking to establish or expand in communities which can be debt or equity.

MATCH Program
The MATCH Program is designed to encourage and attract financially strong companies to North Dakota. The program is targeted to manufacturing, processing and value-added industries.

North Dakota Development Fund
This provides flexible gap financing through debt and equity investments for new or expanding primary sector businesses in the state of North Dakota.

PACE Program
The PACE Fund helps communities expand their economic base by creating new jobs. The program has two elements:
• Participation by BND with a local lender in a community-based loan
• Participation by the PACE Fund with the local community to reduce the borrower’s interest rate.

Agricultural Commodity Processing Facility Investment Tax Credit 

Google Agricultural Commodity Processing Facility Investment Tax Credit 

An individual, estate, trust, partnership, corporation or limited liability company is allowed an income tax credit for investing in an agricultural commodity processing facility in North Dakota certified by the Department of Commerce Division of Economic Development and Finance.

Agricultural Processing Plant Construction Materials Sales Tax Exemption 
Google Agricultural Processing Plant Construction Materials Sales Tax Exemption 
Gross receipts from sales of tangible personal property used to construct an agricultural commodity processing facility in this state are exempt from taxes under this chapter. 

Manufacturing Agricultural or Recycling Equipment Sales Tax Exemption 
Google Manufacturing Agricultural or Recycling Equipment Sales Tax Exemption 
A new or expanding plant may exempt machinery or equipment from sales and use taxes if it is:
1. used primarily for manufacturing or agricultural processing or
2. used solely for recycling.

Income Tax Exemption
A primary sector or tourism business may qualify for an income tax exemption for up to five years.

Property Tax Exemptions 
Google Property Tax Exemptions
A new or expanding business project that is certified as a primary sector business by the Department of Commerce Division of Economic Development and Finance may be granted a property tax exemption for up to five years. 

North Dakota New Jobs Training Program
The program provides a mechanism for primary sector businesses to secure funding to help offset the cost of training new employees for business expansion and/or startup.

Learn more about all of the Department of Commerce’s services at

Share This Article