Things could be worse

Published 10:31 am Friday, October 24, 2008

Minnesota’s statewide initial unemployment claims increased 22.3 percent in September from one year ago. Mower County, however, is holding its own.

The county’s unemployment rate, 4.8 percent (1,014 people), was lower last month than the rest of the southeast Minnesota region, 5.2 percent (14,171 people).

Jennifer Ridgeway, regional analyst for Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) in Rochester, said southeast region data tends to be driven by the Rochester metro area — usually about 1 percent lower than the rest of the state.

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However, she did point out that “unemployment in the area — like everywhere else in the country — is higher than last year.”

“Historically, we have always said things are much better in Minnesota than the rest of the country,” Ridgeway said. The U.S. unemployment rate currently sits at about 6.1 percent.

Industries taking the biggest hits in unemployment this year nationwide have been construction and transportation/warehousing.

“Construction is interesting because companies can move from community to community to do their work,” Ridgeway said.

She does not expect southeast Minnesota to see any job losses in construction, where large layoffs are occurring in other parts of the U.S.

One local construction business, The Joseph Co., Inc., based in Austin, has had two years of solid sales, but acknowledges the effects of the economic crisis.

“Everybody has been affected by the economy,” company president Carter Wagner said.

“You have to stop and look at our year in terms of the last 10 (years), and not just the last two to three years.

“It’s been pretty steady,” he said.

Joseph Co. has several larger projects under its belt, including the Select Foods expansion in Albert Lea and a remodeling at Albert Lea Medical Center, as well as projects in Spirit Lake, Iowa and for Walgreens in the Twin Cities area.

“We’re fortunate that we’re not dependent on just the local economy,” Wagner said. “We’re able to procure contracts outside the Austin-Mower County area.

“The volume and the amount of projects coming up for bids are definitely down from in the past,” he said. “I think it’s going to be another tough winter.”

Ridgeway said that while some areas are being hit hard by the economy, some industries, like health care, are performing remarkably well.

“That will probably continue for the next year,” she said.

Another industry — financial — has been drastically affected with major layoffs across the country; Minnesota, however is not feeling the heat.

“Minnesota has reacted differently in the financial services sector than other parts of the country; we haven’t seen the large layoffs the rest of the country has had,” Ridgeway said.

Minnesota DEED releases local, regional and statewide unemployment data quarterly. Data is available at