The newest residents of this small city on the Great Plains have come a long way to get here.
“Beautiful country, beautiful people,” Roman says in halting English. He doesn’t want to use his last name, because some of his family are still in Nikopol, Ukraine, just a few miles from Russian-occupied territory, and he fears he might endanger them.
“Right now, my city — every day, bomb,” Roman explains during a break from his job on the factory floor at ComDel Innovation, which makes medical devices and other precision equipment in the southeastern corner of North Dakota.
Like a lot of employers in the state, ComDel is having a tough time filling open jobs. North Dakota is rural. It’s cold. And it’s hard to get Americans to move here, according to CEO Jim Albrecht.
“This climate is not necessarily for everyone,” Albrecht deadpans. But for ComDel, this is not a joke. If the company can’t find more employees, he says, it can’t keep growing.
“For the last three years, we have been in a position where customers have come to us and asked us if we would take on work,” Albrecht says. “And we’ve had to say no because of the ability to find people.
“The beginning of this year, we made a decision that, hey, we’ve got to do something,” he says.
That’s when ComDel started looking seriously into a program called Uniting For Ukraine, a legal pathway for Ukrainians to come to the U.S. and work for up to two years. So far, the company has hired about a dozen Ukrainians this way, Albrecht says, and has extended invitations to more than 40 others.
The U.S. immigrant population is growing fast in North Dakota and other states that are a long way from the southern border.