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Job fair aims to pair workers, employers

BEMIDJI – Of 11 regional centers throughout Minnesota, the Bemidji area has the highest unemployment rate at more than 7 percent, Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji, reported Tuesday to Beltrami County Board of Commissioners.

“Bemidji leads the way in the wrong direction, which is frustrating me,” he said. “We certainly are still behind the rest of the state in terms of unemployment rate.”

Hengel, offering an update on Greater Bemidji activities, said there is a disconnect between local employers and the workforce. Greater Bemidji in November plans to host a job fair to feature up to 40 companies, all reporting a desire to hire additional staff.

Beltrami County Commissioner Richard Anderson asked if Hengel knew the educational background or skills sets of those who are unemployed and whether they match companies’ needs.

Noting that he expected more than 300 people to take part in the job fair, Hengel said the event will give him the chance to ask those questions.

“That will be a … potentially powerful day,” he said.

The statistics he provided, from the Department of Employment and Economic Development, reported that Bemidji’s August unemployment rate was 7.1 percent.

The next-highest rates were in Brainerd and Faribault-Northfield, which both reported a 6.5 percent unemployment rate.

Hutchinson was at 6.4 percent, Albert Lea at 5.7 and Fairmont at 5.3. The other cities – Alexandria, Austin, Fergus Falls, Marshall and New Ulm, all had rates under 5 percent. The lowest was 4.4 percent in Marshall.

Hengel referenced a new book, “The Coming Job War,” by Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton. The book, he said, reports how the No. 1 thing people throughout the world desire most is a good job.

“We’ve got to find a way to keep creating jobs for people,” Hengel said. “It’s the best way to improve people’s livelihood.”

Kay Mack, auditor/treasurer and interim county administrator, said two hours north in Roseau, Polaris wants to hire another 400 employees and can’t find the available workforce.

Hengel agreed, noting that both Polaris and Digi-Key Corp. in Thief River Falls “badly” want to hire more employees.

But, he said, “I’m not a big fan of exporting our talent.”

Rather, Hengel said, he is focusing on the needs of the region, which he defined as about 45 miles surrounding Bemidji.

“What happens in Bagley’s important to me; what happens in Kelliher is important to me; what happens in Park Rapids or Cass Lake is important to me,” he said. “We’ve got to act as a region.”