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Job fair attracts employers, job seekers

The Bemidji Regional Job Fair had a huge turnout with more than 40 booths for job searchers at the Sanford Center on Thursday evening. Joan Blom, center, of Solway talks with Mel Fontaine, left, district human resource manager with Home Depot, and Troy Lindquist about employment. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Hundreds of job-seekers filled the George W. Neilson Convention Center at the Sanford Center Thursday night for the Bemidji Regional Job Fair.

Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji, one of the sponsors of the event, said more than 40 businesses were represented. Most of them came from the local area, he said, but some like DigiKey of Thief River Falls and Polaris Industries of Roseau also set up booths.

“What we’re trying to do here is fill the gap,” Hengel said.

Hengel said the impetus for the fair was the fact that many employers were telling him they needed positions filled. At the same time, northwestern Minnesota has some of the highest poverty rates in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  

“And I said ‘Something’s gotta give here,’” Hengel said. “There’s a mismatch somehow, and maybe this will help. And I think it is.”

The national unemployment figures have been slowly going down in recent months. In October, the unemployment rate was 7.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Lori Paris, president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, said there could be another fair in the spring.

The demographic of people looking for jobs Thursday night varied from the currently unemployed to those looking to switch jobs to recent college graduates.

Kyle Johnson fell into the latter category. A recent environmental studies graduate, he said he was “encouraged” by the fair.

The event was sponsored by Greater Bemidji, the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, the state Department of Employment and Economic Development and the Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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