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Jobless rates drop across lakes area

Bolstered by strong manufacturing, April jobless rates dropped, ending Brainerd’s reign for the highest unemployment.

The latest jobless rates were released this week by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. Brainerd’s rate fell from nearly 14 percent in March to 10.7 percent in April. That drop put Bemidji just slightly higher at 10.9 percent, enough to take the mantle as the city with the highest unemployment among those in the state with a population of 10,000 or more.

Craig Nathan, operations manager for Rural Minnesota CEP at the Minnesota WorkForce Center in Brainerd, said the drop in numbers makes sense as manufacturing demand for employees has increased in the state. That has translated to an increase in the number of jobs available in the area and in fewer people coming in for services at the WorkForce Center, Nathan said.

At Clow Stamping, Merrifield, 45 people were recently hired. Nor-Son is constructing a 70,000-square-foot addition for the manufacturer. Clow Stamping now has more than 300 employees.

Manufacturing has increased demand for skilled employees and some unskilled, Nathan said. He said health care is accounting for additional jobs. The latest numbers mean out of a labor force of 7,592 in Brainerd, 812 are without jobs. Many other large cities in the state posted April jobless rates of 4 percent and 5 percent. Moorhead had a jobless rate of 2.9 percent. Worthington was 3.7 percent. Only Brainerd and Bemidji were still in double-digit unemployment rates.

Brainerd’s numbers are improved compared to last year at this time when the percentage of people in the labor force without jobs was 13.1 percent. Last year, the jobless rate didn’t drop to 10.8 percent until August. Two years ago, the jobless rate for April was 14.4 percent. And in 2009, the April unemployment rate was a staggering 19.7 percent in the city.

As for Brainerd, Nathan said a supply of affordable housing, proximity to county services and greater population of a lower-skilled work force are all factors in Brainerd’s perennially high jobless rates. Brainerd and Baxter are also in a position of adjoining cities where Baxter’s population is not taken into the equation when calculating the jobless rate.

To get a wider look, the Brainerd micropolitan’s unemployment was 7.3 percent for April. The micropolitan covers Cass and Crow Wing counties. So in April, the micropolitan had 3,465 people without jobs from a labor force of 47,756. The micropolitan’s jobless rate fell from 9.9 percent in March. In April of 2011, the micropolitan’s jobless rate was 9.1 percent. In 2010, it was 9.4 percent. The latest unemployment numbers matched the April jobless rate of 2008.

Another factor may be an increase in construction work. Several area builders reported after several years of a building drought following on the heels of the housing market meltdown, they are once again back in the business of building at least one house.

Across the region, the jobless rates dropped markedly between March and April. Aitkin County went from 9.7 percent to 7.8; Cass County from 11.4 percent to 8.4; Crow Wing County from 9.2 to 6.8; Mille Lacs County from 11.8 to 8.8; Morrison County from 9.1 to 6.5; Todd County from 7.6 to 5.5; and Wadena County from 9.9 to 7.2.

In April 2011, the jobless rates across the counties ranged from 7.1 percent to 11.1 percent. In April 2010, five of the seven counties had jobless rates of nearly 10 percent or higher. And in April of 2009, six of seven counties had jobless rates of 11.2 percent to 14 percent with just one county below double-digits as Todd County had a 9.5 percent unemployment rate.

There are several initiatives in the lakes region to bridge the gap between available jobs and skills of displaced workers. As manufacturers make capital investments and look to increase production, Nathan said there is a need for skilled labor to fill those jobs.

“That’s a concern statewide,” Nathan said of filling the jobs that now incorporate more and more technology.

Nathan said one initiative involves a partnership with the state Department of Employment and Economic Development to increase the number of job search classes and retraining assistance. There are increasing requirements for people on unemployment to have an employment plan and have increased verification of job searches and their results, Nathan said.

In addition, he said, statewide efforts are focusing on getting lower-skilled workers to retrain and enter careers showing promise for the future, such as the national effort with FastTRAC. To that end, connections are made with community colleges and Adult Basic Education to both bolster basic skills in math, reading and writing. Once basic skills are reinforced, the focus is on the transition to schools such as Central Lakes College and career paths, including manufacturing.

The National Career Readiness Certificate is another tool so a prospective employer sees a job candidate meets core fundamentals transferable to job effectiveness across industries. Nathan said that certificate is gaining visibility with businesses. It’s all part of the effort, he said, to address high unemployment and helping lower-skilled workers find a place in the evolving job market of today.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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