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Brainerd jobless rates

Job trends suggest career track options

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

In a nation and a state with more unemployed workers than available jobs, few insights may be as useful as those that say work toward this career a well-paying job awaits. 

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Ah, if it were only that easy. 

Not to mention all those other factors that go into finding the right job that combines one’s abilities and interests with a living wage. And maybe just enough wiggle room to travel, save for a child’s college education, upgrade to a high-definition TV or just add dinner out and a movie now and then.

Projections are just that, predictions, however educated, about how things might look. In terms of high demand and high paying occupations, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, produces an employment outlook for job growth. 

So from now through 2019, DEED has a list of occupations meeting a rare combination since the depths of the Great Recession — a job opening for work with a serious paycheck attached. DEED expects central Minnesota to have 100,472 job openings from 2009-2019 with a median annual salary (meaning half will earn more and half less) of $31,959 across the board.

In central Minnesota, those high demand/high pay jobs are predicted to be, in descending order:

• Registered nurses earning $71,468 a year. 

• Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses earning $38,100. 

• Clergy earning $45,642. 

• First line supervisors/managers of construction, $59,882. 

• Lawyers, $76,167. 

• Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, $42,391. 

At the Small Business Development Center at Central Lakes College, Director Greg Bergman said people continue to come to the center with an interest in starting a food-related business, whether that’s opening a restaurant or manufacturing a food product — like a barbecue sauce. 

For the region, Bergman said employment numbers grew in food service and accommodations and assisted living, group homes and health/nutrition. 

“Those are, I think, some real growth areas we are going to see,” Bergman said from his office in the Business and Industry Center on CLC’s Brainerd campus. Bergman noted an uptick in manufacturing earlier this summer suffered a dip. 

“There is so much uncertainty yet,” Bergman said. “I think that is holding back some of the hiring.”

The SBDC’s mission is to improve economic growth by assisting small business both in startups and in reducing the number of small business failures. Bergman said business owners are trying to gauge the economy and whether to invest in employees or not as consumers remain cautious about spending. 

“It’s a challenge,” Bergman said. “We are in a smaller world. What happens in Greece. What happens in London, it can affect our businesses. It breeds more uncertainty here.”

In July, the Economic Policy Institute reported the job seekers ratio — the number of unemployed workers compared to job openings — has been more than 4.3 to 1 for 29 consecutive months. In other words, EPI reported, there hasn’t been an available job for at least three out of four unemployed workers. 

Bergman said that has made it difficult for young people to get first jobs as the market is flooded with older more experienced workers affected by layoffs. 

In May, the job openings numbered 3 million with 13.9 million unemployed workers. 

“The key difference between the current and previous recoveries has been the lack of job openings in this recovery, reflecting the weak labor market in the aftermath of the financial crisis and a shortfall in demand,” EPI reported. “In the first 23 months of recovery after the 2001 recession, there were a cumulative total of 82.5 million job openings. In the first 23 months of recovery following the 2007 recession, there were only 64.4 million jobs, or 22 percent fewer jobs.”

The Great Recession brought on the most challenging labor market in 30 years, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development reported. This summer, DEED reported  “while job growth has been slow since the end of the recession, the stage may be set for businesses to begin significant hiring.”

In the Minnesota Economic Trends publication by DEED, a report on the economic recovery noted expanded production, increased purchasing and corporate profits at high levels. From the beginning, economists stated the job recovery would be slow to follow other positive indicators. 

“So we have expanding production, strong sales and near-record profits, but despite full recoveries in production and profits, we have regained only one-seventh of the jobs lost during the recession,” DEED reported. 

One reason, DEED stated, is because the workers who were left after the widespread layoffs increased productivity by 8.5 percent during the past two years, “allowing the production of 4.4 percent more goods and services with 4 percent fewer workers.”

One of the indicators of recovery is a turnaround in the fortunes of temporary employment services. Generally employers, unsure of the recovery’s economic stability and leery of adding employees who will only be cut down the road, have resisted hiring. Even temp agencies felt the recession’s sting with the state reporting the industry declined as much as 25 percent on an annual basis from mid-2007 through 2009. DEED reported temp services started growing in early 2010. Additionally, the state reported a 30.6 percent increase in job openings as part of its Job Vacancy Survey when comparing fourth quarters in 2009 with 2010. 

But the openings still aren’t making much of a dent in the number of unemployed or underemployed workers, those who may be working less than full time, or two part-time jobs to get close to the full-time jobs they lost in the economic purge. 

Construction was one of the hardest hit areas following the real estate market meltdown. The state reported construction employment rose for 14 straight years from 1992 to 2006. Then the rug was pulled out beneath those workers as the country entered its deepest and longest recession since the Great Depression. Construction jobs “plummeted for five straight years,” DEED reported. 

Nate Dorr, a DEED regional labor analyst for the state’s northwest counties, reported current demand for workers in the region “remains fairly low” with low job vacancy rates in construction and manufacturing. But after considering multiple data sources, Dorr theorized “the worst is over,” noting while current demand for workers is weak, projections depict improvement. “Employment will return slowly,” Dorr said. “Consumer confidence will factor into the speed of recovery in the region. The construction industry is showing signs of a turnaround. That’s good news for the regional economy, since this industry represents 10,011 covered jobs and another 7,374 self-employed workers.”

Bergman said internships provide one option to get a foot in the door for a potential paying job off but some business owners with stretched staff have to balance the time an intern would need from a mentor with the work production they offer. DEED provides a list of hot jobs, both for the current market and projections for the future, to give a glimpse at what is out there for jobseekers or students making career decisions. Not everything out there comes with a need for a four-year college degree. Area businesses have reported a need for welders and other skilled labor positions. 

While food establishments are a high risk, high reward type of industry, they remain a popular choice for people seeking to start their own business in the lakes area, Bergman said. 

It’s a challenging industry with labor costs, hours of operation and perishable food inventory. And with more and more options for consumers who have tighter budgets, the question for existing eateries is how to keep people coming through the doors. 

Bergman said the industry standard calls for renovations every three to five years, which also calls for a business expenditure. Fast food restaurants update menus even more frequently to keep abreast of trends and changing customer interests. Food establishments are an industry that does well in the lakes area, Bergman said. 

Poncho & Lefty’s, one of Baxter’s long-standing restaurants, completed a major interior remodel in June 2010. Erica Maske, general manager, said the renovation gained positive feedback and brought customers inside. 

“People like change,” Maske said. 

Poncho’s employs about 50 during the peak summer months. Maske said customers, especially families, come in to take advantage of happy hour food discounts in a way they didn’t before the recession and business isn’t yet where it was four or five years ago. 

For those entering the food industry, Bergman said the SBDC assists by helping startups understand their target audience. Where do their clients frequent, what music do they listen to, what do they read, what are the other products they buy, who are direct and indirect competitors? It all helps in determining how to reach that customer. 

New business owners tend to underestimate what they need to do for marketing and promotion to bring people to them, Bergman said either by the dollars spent in advertising or the time to stay current in social networks. The center also helps business ventures identify skill gaps and how to manage them such as hiring an accounting service, hiring an employee for that work or learning how to handle the books by themselves. 

For jobseekers, especially students, Bergman, who has two children in that age group, said the best advice may be to stay flexible and not to fixate on a single occupation. And if that occupation is a business owner of an eating establishment, just be aware while the work can be rewarding consumers are fickle and there is a lot more competition out there. 

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852.

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