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Uncommon unemployment: State, county unemployment rates on decline

BEMIDJI—For the past few months, the unemployment rate for Minnesota, and for individual counties, has been lower than in previous years.

The Bemidji region is no exception.

Minnesota had an unemployment rate of 2.8 percent in November, the lowest since May 1999, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Beltrami County had an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in November, more than a point lower than the average rate of about 4.4 percent for November in recent years.

"Beltrami County isn't the only one experiencing historically low unemployment rates in the past couple months," said Cameron Macht, DEED regional analysis and outreach manager. "There are a lot of counties, especially in northern Minnesota, which tend to have higher unemployment rates overall that are seeing really low numbers.

"It has to do with changes we've been seeing in the labor market and the overall tightness of the economy."

Macht said the department is seeing the demand for workers increasing, while the labor force isn't growing at the same speed. The result, Macht said is there are more job vacancies than there are unemployed job seekers.

Dave Hengel, director of Greater Bemidji Economic Development, sees the same situation in the region.

"As we've continued to grow in jobs, our labor force kept up and consequently, our unemployment rate remained relatively higher," Hengel said. "Now, the boomers are beginning to retire at a pace where the people moving to town or entering the labor force aren't keeping up with the employment vacancy growth. So, our unemployment rate is down and the fact that we've gone down in the number of unemployed people is overall a good thing for the community."

Beltrami County's unemployment rate in September and October was also lower—September 2018 was 2.8 percent, compared to 3.6 percent in September 2017 and 4.5 percent in September 2016. Likewise, the rate was 2.7 percent this past October, down from 3 percent in October 2017 and 4.1 percent in October 2016.

And Hengel said, the unemployment rate for the Bemidji micropolitan area, which only includes Beltrami County communities, is at 4.2 percent. The rate reflects a labor force estimated at 24,014, with 23,007 people employed as of November. In comparison, there was a labor force of 23,990 in 2017 with 22,794 employed, resulting in an unemployment rate of 5 percent.

The unemployment rate was a few percentage points higher 10 years ago, with a labor force of 21,196 in 2008 while there were 19,732 employed for a rate of 6.9 percent.

Because of recent and future job growth, Hengel said he doesn't see the trend changing in the coming months.

"There's a lot of development going on," Hengel said. "Stittsworth Meats just had an expansion and added people. There's also Sanford Health's growth, which has been substantial."

In the years ahead, Hengel also noted the coming operations and technology center for the benefits provider Delta Dental of Minnesota in Bemidji, which will create about 150 jobs, as well as a new veterans home in the community, expected to create about 120 jobs.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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