BEMIDJI-Beltrami County's unemployment rate had a slight uptick last month, increasing from 5.4% in February to 5.5% in March.

The number is expected to fall gradually in the next few months, though, based on historical trends.

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Data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development shows numbers from both February and March have already fallen from the January rate of 6%.

That follows trends for the past two years as well.

"It's a long term pattern and it typically works out that way because of the seasonal nature of Minnesota's employment," DEED Regional Analyst Cameron Macht said. "A lot of times the unemployment rate ticks upward starting with January, where it's usually the highest. Then, it will start coming back down, when some of the seasonal industry starts hiring."

In 2018, Beltrami County saw its lowest unemployment from May through November, with the rates coming consistently below 4%. Unemployment fell to its lowest last year in September at 2.8% and October at 2.7%.

In looking to jobs data, Macht said between third-quarter 2017 and third-quarter 2018, there was a net gain of 736 jobs in Beltrami County. In the months ahead, job gains should continue for the county, as Delta Dental of Minnesota is planning to hire a staff of 150 for its new operations and technology center in Bemidji.

The Minneapolis-based company is constructing its new facility in the Technology Park, an area of Bemidji west of U.S. Highway 71 and north of Anne Street. Once open, the company is expected to be a top 10 employer in the community.

Because the operations center will be completed in September, Delta Dental is in the hiring process and was one of the companies set up at last week's regional job fair at the Sanford Center.

Despite the event taking place during a heavy winter storm, Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce President Deb Pfaff said the job fair was still successful.

"The numbers were certainly down because of the snow, but we were really pleased with the amount of qualified job seekers participating," Pfaff said. "Despite the snow, we had more than 100 job seekers meeting with all of our vendors."

While the Chamber holds the Bemidji Regional Hiring Event on an annual basis, Pfaff said companies will likely be holding their own job fairs moving forward. This has been confirmed by Delta Dental staff, who've said the company is looking to hold its own job fairs, likely in May, June and August.

Macht said if the 150 employees Delta Dental plans to hire live in Beltrami County, the number would have a "direct impact."

"If that were the case, the unemployment rate for this last month would be at 4.9%," Macht said. "It would be a significant change in the scope of the economy."

Statewide, the unemployment rate also ticked up from 3.1% in February to 3.2% in March, with 1,300 jobs added.

"Unemployment insurance claims remained steady last month, in spite of the rising unemployment rate," DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said in a press release. "This suggests Minnesotans may be looking for better employment opportunities."

"We've been dealing with a pretty tight labor market for some time," Macht said. "The state's unemployment rate has stayed relatively low and businesses are hiring, but it can be a struggle to find available applicants."