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Jobless rate drops — a little

Brandi Cluever (left) of Brainerd talked with Pansy Smith of The Work Connection

Job seekers turned out for a job fair Tuesday in hopes of finding temporary jobs across a number of fields. 

“I’m interested in anything,” said Stephanie Jensen, 19, Brainerd. 

Jensen said she plans to attend Central Lakes College in the fall and has been out of work for a couple of weeks. She’s had interviews, but no job offers yet, she said. 

“Not very many people are hiring,” Jensen said. Tuesday she was filling out applications with temp agencies at a job fair at the WorkForce Center in the Community Services building on Laurel Street in Brainerd. 

Sue Hilgart, team leader at the WorkForce Center, said the temp work is where the jobs are right now. 

Pro Staff, Employment Resource Center, the Work Connection were taking applications and JJ Holmes was conducting interviews at the job fair. Sixty-one job seekers attended the job fair as of 5:30 p.m. with more  walking in during the last half hour. 

Hilgart said the temp agencies had open positions and each one was working with 10 to 15 employers. 

Pansy Smith, a staffing professional at the Work Connection in Brainerd, said they were looking for machine operators, production and warehouse workers, certified welders and wood finishers among a list of other positions. 

“This has been a good turnout,” Smith said. Temp work can be a way to get a foot in the door to a permanent position and lead to full-time work. 

Rob LeMay, a certified nursing assistant, attended the job fair with his son. From Tennessee, LeMay said he came to Baxter to help his brother-in-law after his sister died. Now he is hoping to get a temporary job at an area hospital. He’s been looking for work for three months. 

“It’s been pretty tough,” LeMay said. “They are scarce.”

Just recently, LeMay said the tight job market began to open up. 

“It will come around,” he said.

The release of updated jobless rates for Minnesota counties and large cities coincided with the job fair.

The jobless rate dropped for the second straight month in Brainerd, falling to 16.7 percent in March. The city remains the hardest hit in the state among cities with populations of 10,000 or more regarding the number of unemployed. 

For Brainerd, the latest numbers mean out of a labor force of 7,090, there are 1,183 people without jobs. This is the city’s 29th straight month with double-digit unemployment. 

Brainerd’s unemployment rate for March was 2 percent higher than Bemidji, with the second highest unemployment in Minnesota at 14.6 percent.

Other cities in double digits were Grand Rapids, Alexandria, Cloquet and Hutchinson. Many of the other large cities posted jobless rates of 6-8 percent or lower. Chanhassen’s rate for March was 4.4 percent. Vadnais Heights was 3.8 percent. 

Brainerd’s unemployment rate jumped from 16 percent in December to 18 percent in January before it began dropping to 17.5 percent in February. March continued the downward trend, even if the movement was slight.

Since 2000, Brainerd’s highest jobless rate — 20.8 percent — was recorded two years ago in March 2009. 

In the wider area of the Brainerd micropolitan, covering Cass and Crow Wing counties, the jobless rate continued the trickle down from 11.6 percent in February to 11.2 percent in March. A year ago, the micropolitan’s jobless rate was 11.8 percent. 

In the seven county area, all the jobless rates dropped at least slightly to post the lowest rates in 2011.

Area county jobless rates for March were: 

• Aitkin County, 11.2 percent or 836 people, down from 11.8 percent in February. In March 2010, the jobless rate was 12.4 percent.

• Cass County, 13.2 percent or 1,809 people, down from 13.5 percent in February. This March’s rate is nearly identical to 2010. 

• Crow Wing County, 10.3 percent or 3,270 people, down from February’s 10.8 percent and down from the 11.1 percent posted in March 2010.

• Mille Lacs County, 13.3 percent pr 1,635 people, down from 13.7 percent in February and below the 14.2 percent from March 2010. 

• Morrison County, 11.3 percent or 2,031 people, a drop from 11.9 percent in February. In March 2010, the jobless rate was 11.6 percent. 

• Todd County, 8.5 percent or 1,115 people, down from 8.8 percent in February and below the 9.8 percent from March 2010. 

• Wadena County, 11 percent or 726 people, down from 11.3 percent in February. In March 2010, the jobless rate was 12 percent. 

In March 2009, the jobless rates for the seven area counties ranged between 11.6 percent and 15.8 percent. In March of 2008, those percentages were between 6.9 percent and 10.4 percent.

Twenty people were recognized earlier in the day at the WorkForce Center for achieving a National Career Readiness Certificate, which measures workplace skills. Testing measures competency in applied math, an ability to locate  information in workplace graphics, and reading. 

Smith said she was impressed by the certification and what it said about the individual’s job skills. 

“It does help make them more employable,” Smith said. “I think it’s well worth the effort. ... We tell people ‘cover your bases’ with this economy you really need to.”

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.