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Beltrami County unemployment rates show post-pandemic economic recovery is in sight

The Beltrami County unemployment rate for July 2021 weren't just better than 2020, they exceeded 2019, too. The number shows a trend of economic recovery for the area.

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BEMIDJI -- The Beltrami County economy appears to be well on its way to recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, with stronger job numbers last month than July 2019.

Despite many businesses in the Bemidji area and beyond struggling with staffing shortages, unemployment rates are the lowest they've been in recent history. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the unemployment rate for July was 3.3%, better than the 4% recorded for that month in 2019. Preceding months have been close to that of 2019, too:

  • In April 2019 the unemployment was 4.5%, in 2011 it was 4.6%.
  • In May 2019 the unemployment rate for Beltrami County was 3.5%, in 2021 it was 3.7%.
  • In both 2019 and 2021 the June unemployment for the county was 4.2%.

The numbers are an improvement over 2020 during the height of the pandemic. In 2020, the unemployment rate was 9.1% in April, 9% in May, 7.7% in June and 6.6% in July.
"Northwest Minnesota is one of the areas of the state closest to pre-pandemic employment levels," said Cameron Macht, acting assistant labor market information director. "When you look at Beltrami County, they actually have a lower unemployment rate than they had in 2019. So, it's recovered even more than the state of Minnesota as a whole."

Macht said Beltrami County had about 725 more workers than it had two years ago.

"In general, I think northwest Minnesota has a more seasonal economy than the state overall," Macht said. "Many of those seasonal industries have come back really strong. We've seen big gains in accommodation, food service, arts, entertainment and recreation."

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Another boost to the regional economy has been construction.

"It's been extremely strong in northwest Minnesota," Macht said. "Hiring has been way up in the region, including Beltrami County."

Macht said he suspects the increase is related to the Line 3 pipeline replacement project by the Canadian company Enbridge. The pipeline is a total of 1,000 miles, starting in Canada, going through North Dakota and Minnesota, and ending in Superior, Wis.

Construction has been going on the last year and the 340-mile section in Minnesota is about 90% completed . The workforce on the pipeline in Minnesota has been about 4,000.

"If we look at where the job growth has been occurring, it's been in heavy and civil engineering construction, so that includes that type of construction activity," Macht said.

While the state as a whole is behind Beltrami County, the economy is still improving . Minnesota gained 14,500 jobs in July, with the unemployment rate going from 4% in June to 3.9% in July.

"It's always good to have a month with solid job gains," DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said in a release. "We remain laser-focused on connecting as many Minnesotans as we can with available, good-paying jobs in our economy, of which there are plenty."

The economic recovery comes after unemployment skyrocketed in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Locally, the April 2020 unemployment rate in Beltrami County was the highest since March 2011, when it hit 9.6% .

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"This year is definitely looking better than 2020," Macht said. "The declines we saw last year were completely unprecedented, we never saw anything like that. The recovery has been pretty strong so far this year. If we're looking between January and July, we've regained a lot of the jobs lost in 2020."

Moving forward, Macht said safety protocols related to COVID-19 will be a factor in the continued recovery.

"There always is the uncertainty that comes with coronavirus, and for a lot of people, the fear of COVID is a factor keeping them out of the labor force," Macht said. "So, anything employers can do to make people feel safer in the workplace can only be helpful in getting the economy back to normal more quickly."

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