<< All News Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - 11:30am

BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum today appointed Michelle Kommer to lead the North Dakota Department of Commerce, citing her strong leadership qualities, extensive private-sector experience and commitment to addressing the state’s workforce shortage.

Kommer currently serves in a dual capacity as commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights and executive director of Job Service North Dakota. Her appointment as commerce commissioner is effective Jan. 1. She will continue to serve as labor commissioner on an interim basis, and Workforce Safety & Insurance Director Bryan Klipfel will also serve a dual role as interim executive director of Job Service, until both positions can be filled on a permanent basis.

“With more than two decades of experience in the private sector, Michelle is passionate about promoting economic development, building healthy, vibrant communities and solving our state’s workforce shortage – the No. 1 barrier to economic growth in North Dakota,” Burgum said. “She has proven herself to be a skilled, thoughtful leader and is well-suited to lead the Commerce team as they work to grow our economy and workforce, enhance community services and promote North Dakota as a tourist destination. We’re grateful for her outstanding service to North Dakota citizens and look forward to her continued leadership.”

Burgum also expressed his deepest gratitude for the continued service of Shawn Kessel, who has served as interim commerce commissioner since Oct. 1 and will return to his role as deputy commissioner, playing an integral role as legislative liaison and driving efforts in energy development and economic diversification. Kessel is a past president of the Western Dakota Energy Association, North Dakota League of Cities and North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund.


Since joining the Burgum/Sanford administration two years ago, Kommer has spearheaded efforts to address North Dakota’s workforce shortage. The state had 13,164 online job openings in November and is estimated to have as many as 30,000 open jobs overall.

Kommer led the revitalization of the state’s Workforce Development Council (WDC) and oversaw a statewide survey of employers last summer to identify their most pressing workforce issues. Based on the survey results, the WDC produced an extensive report of recommendations designed to help shape the state’s workforce policy agenda to address the workforce shortage and support a 21st century workforce to meet current and future needs.

Several of the WDC recommendations are among the workforce-related proposals in the governor’s 2019-2021 Executive Budget recommendation released last Wednesday, including:

  • $30 million in competitive grants for career academies, requiring a 1-to-1 match from the private sector or political subdivisions. According to the North Dakota Workforce Survey, over 70 percent of available jobs in North Dakota require an associate degree or less. Career academies can help move youth into the workforce and lower the cost of college.
  • $2 million for workforce development initiatives, including $950,000 to refocus the Operation Intern program to support local businesses throughout the state and $750,000 to address the nursing shortage by providing matching grant funds for rural health facilities seeking to add rural health care education in their local communities.
  • $250,000 for grants to support giving students early exposure to North Dakota careers
  • $3 million for marketing to address the talent attraction and retention challenges throughout the state by promoting the state’s high quality of life.

Kommer also has played an active role in the Main Street Initiative, which is one of the governor’s five strategic initiatives and is built on three pillars: 21st century workforce, healthy, vibrant communities and smart, efficient infrastructure. The Department of Commerce is the lead agency working on the cross-cutting initiative. 

Kommer has more than 20 years of experience in the private sector, leading human resource, operational and legal functions in the financial services, health insurance and energy/manufacturing industries. Prior to her appointment as labor commissioner in November 2016, she had served as chief administrative officer and general counsel for Western State Bank, where her in-house practice included contract negotiation and management, labor and employment matters, and corporate governance. Her executive experience includes leadership of the strategic planning, human resources, project management, information technology, operations and legal functions.  

Kommer is licensed to practice law in both North Dakota and Minnesota. She received her undergraduate degree from Mayville State University, her master’s degree from the University of Mary and her law degree from the University of North Dakota School of Law.

The North Dakota Department of Commerce works to improve the quality of life for North Dakota citizens by leading efforts to attract, retain and expand wealth. Commerce serves businesses and communities statewide through committed people and partners who offer valuable programs and dynamic services. The department has four divisions: Tourism, Economic Development, Workforce Development and Community Services.

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