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The lakes area magnet? It’s all about jobs

Jennifer Bergman had always wanted to live in the Brainerd area. She got her opp1 / 2
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What draws prospective employees to the Brainerd area?

Sure, there’s the amenities — the lakes and any number of other outdoor activities, the school systems, the relatively inexpensive housing, being a regional commercial center and being centrally located in the state, to name a few. 

Five years ago, such advantages probably played a larger role in bringing people to the area for work. That, of course, was before the economy nosedived and employment opportunities followed suit. 

The main draw of the area now boils down to one word: jobs. But what’s keeping employees in the area is about everything else it has to offer.

“Occasionally we get candidates from the Twin Cities who talk about how nice it would be up here around the lakes, but it’s really the jobs that are driving it,” said Brad Erickson, human resources director at Landis & Gyr in Pequot Lakes. 

It’s certainly the reason Jennifer Bergman moved to Brainerd, though she confesses she has always wanted to live in the area. 

Bergman moved to Brainerd in June after being hired as executive director of the Brainerd Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Before that she served in the same position for the city of Anoka. 

“Primarily it’s the job,” Bergman said. “I was incredibly fortunate. My field is very specific and there aren’t a lot of housing authorities around. Yeah, when this job came up I was incredibly excited and when I got offered the job I felt honored and thrilled. It’s what I do. It’s what I live to do. It’s what I went to college for.”

Dr. Tyler Dunphy, recently hired by Essentia Health in Brainerd, had spent the last seven years in the Twin Cities, finishing medical school at the University of Minnesota and his residency at Hennepin County Medical Center. 

Brainerd is Dunphy’s hometown, and his father still practices medicine with Essentia Health. However, when looking for a job Dunphy said his only desire was to be in outstate Minnesota. 

He started with a broad search for medical facilities needing physicians in general internal medicine and he made contacts in Grand Rapids and Duluth. 

“I kept an open mind initially, to make sure I was not overlooking a great opportunity elsewhere,” Dunphy said. 

But the position in Brainerd was too much to pass up. Not only was it in his field but it offered so much more — being close to family, reuniting with old friends and having an overall familiarity with the area. It also helped that his wife is a Brainerd native. 

Dunphy said many people who spend as long as he did in one place would probably stay there. He, however, never intended to stay in a big city.

“Overall it was a good opportunity to get back to a smaller town and get out of the Twin Cities,” Dunphy said. 

Eric Gibson was hired by Consolidated Telecommunications Co. in Brainerd about three years ago after working in Montana. A Minnesota native, it was the job that lured him back home and the benefits of living in central Minnesota that have kept him here. 

A good educational system, outdoors activities, the lakes, a small town atmosphere — Brainerd offered the perfect mix for Gibson. 

“Overall, it’s just a really nice area to raise a family,” said Gibson, who lives in Baxter with his wife and four children. “I really loved it out west but when I was given this opportunity I didn’t hesitate.”

Kristi Westbrock, CTC director of human resources, said about 50 percent of applicants specifically want to get into the Brainerd area and about 50 percent are simply looking at the job. 

It’s those amenities that are keeping people here, Westbrock said, which is important to CTC. 

“We really do pay a lot of attention to that in the interview process,” Westbrock said. “We’re trying to assess if someone will enjoy living in the area. That makes for a longer term employee, a longer commitment. If somebody has never lived outside the metro area we want to make sure they’d be comfortable living in what they might consider a rural area. For me, Brainerd offers the perfect middle ground.” 

Marlowe Berg and Greg Munson both came to Ascensus a little more than a year ago from the Twin Cities — Berg hired as human resources director and Munson hired as director of client services. 

“In my case, it was definitely the job” that brought him to Brainerd, Munson said. “Ascensus is in the field I have spent my entire career in, I knew Ascensus by reputation and had done some work with them in the past. I was very motivated to make the move when I got the job offer.”

Berg said he knew little about the Brainerd area when he took the job at Ascensus and was worried some things the Twin Cities offered, such as a variety of restaurants, would not be available in the Brainerd area. So far he said he’s been impressed. 

Marlowe said his reason for moving to the Brainerd area was twofold — he wanted to come to a stable company that was involved and a leader in the community and he wanted to be closer to a lake home 2 1/2 hours north of Brainerd. 

“Also, I probably was getting burned out working for a large corporation. That corporate life was not something I was excited to come back to,” Berg said. “Coming to a small town is something that has allowed me to breathe again.”

From a recruiting aspect, Marlowe said students of small colleges and universities want to locate in the Brainerd area because of training opportunities and a lower cost of living. 

A challenge, Marlowe said, is attracting people with more experience. While the job is attractive, those people also have families, need to sell homes and want to live in an area where their spouse also can find work. 

Munson said moving to Brainerd has been a revelation because of how nice everyone has been and how involved employees are not only in the company but in the community. That’s a selling point, Marlowe said. 

“If somebody wants to work in the financial retirement industry, we have a reputation of being an outstanding employer with a lot to offer and Brainerd is a great community to come to,” Berg said. “We do have an awful lot to sell to prospective employees. We try to leverage a lot of that on the company but also on what the area offers.”

Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. and a Brainerd native, recalled that during her senior year of college at Moorhead State University her father urged her to apply at Universal Pensions Inc. in Baxter.

Haverkamp didn’t get the job but when UPI owner and BLADC chairman Arnold Johnson was looking to replace BLADC’s one employee, he asked UPI’s human resource director to identify potential candidates. Haverkamp’s name came up, and she got the position. 

For Haverkamp, it was the job that attracted her back to Brainerd. What the Brainerd area has to offer is what’s kept her here, she said. 

“I feel fortunate to live in a beautiful area that offers four seasons, is safe and connected to the world,” Haverkamp said. “My husband and I have the pleasure of raising our children in a community that has wonderful schools, good health care facilities, recreational opportunities, and so much more.

“I frequently stop and think about everything I enjoy — beautiful natural surroundings that so many people only read about, three parks within one mile of our home, trails right outside our front door, the sound of the trains going through town, summer tourists enjoying themselves, abundant goods and services and all within a short distance of our home.”

While the economy in recent years has been challenging, Haverkamp believes the Brainerd area’s best days are yet to come. She said she hopes those who desire to live and work in the Brainerd area can find job opportunities to utilize their skills and expertise.

MATT ERICKSON may be reached at or 855-5857.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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