Ryan Howard / Daily Journal: New clothing store Angels and D'Mens is an example of how small business expansion can improve a local economy and bring down unemployment figures.

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More jobs in Fergus Falls [UPDATED]

Published 11:00am Thursday, May 26, 2011 Updated 11:20am Thursday, May 26, 2011

More people are working in Fergus Falls now than at any time since almost two years ago, according to local unemployment numbers released this week by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The statistics showed that 6,662 workers were employed during the month of April, the most since 6,713 people were employed in July of 2009. The last time that many were employed during the month of April was 2003.

The city’s unemployment rate is showing signs of falling, too, as April’s unemployment rate was 7.1 percent, one percent lower than the 8.1 rate a year ago.

Based on recent trends, “we’re dipping back down to more of a normal range in unemployment, more of that 5 or 6 percent range,” said Rick Schara, business services specialist with the WorkForce Center in Fergus Falls.

The 7.1 percent marks the lowest unemployment numbers for the city since November 2010, as seasonal unemployment consistently rises during winter in Fergus Falls. More importantly, it is the best April for employment numbers since 2008’s 6.7 percent, a sign that the economic downturn in the city is lessening.

Another positive sign is that more people are looking for work in Fergus Falls. April’s numbers put the city’s labor force at 7,170, the highest it’s been since August 2009, when there were 7,283 eligible workers in town.

Otter Tail County’s unemployment is also dropping. The county’s April unemployment rate was 6.8 percent, down a half percent from April 2010 and down a full two percentage points from April 2009. The county’s number of employed workers in April (28,707) was higher than it was at any point during 2010, and, like Fergus Falls, it was the best April for overall number of employed workers since 2003.

“We know the economy is starting to grow a bit and you’re starting to see a little more spending in manufacturing and retail sectors,” said Jeff Ackerson, CEO of Vinylite Windows and the board chairman of the Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Commission.

The creeping economic improvement, he said, allows incremental hiring moves in local businesses, as well as the opening of new small businesses that can hire a few people. He used the recently-opened clothing store Angels and D’Mens as an example of how a few employees here and there can really make a difference in a city’s jobless rate.

“We’ve added five or six employees here (at Vinylite) in the last two months,” he said, adding that more may be hired as construction season begins, and he mentioned that other local manufacturers have been hiring new workers.

Ackerson also speculated that some may be starting to accept jobs as unemployment benefits run out, but he added that he couldn’t make that claim definitively without doing further research into employment statistics.

The county and city jobless rates were still higher than Minnesota’s overall seasonal adjusted rate of 6.5 percent and lower than the nationwide rate of 9 percent.

“You look at our (website), www.minnesotaworks.net, that’s our online jobs database and as of this morning, within 25 miles of Fergus Falls we have 104 jobs this morning that are listed,” said Schara, who added that the jobs range from health care to work from home to manufacturing. While he said that’s an anecdotal example, during some of the lows of the recession there were fewer than 50 jobs on the site.

Though Schara said the lower unemployment rate is partially due to the upcoming construction season as well as tourism beginning to start up, he added that the positive numbers seem to be part of an overall improvement.

“We don’t live in a bubble,” he said. “I do a lot of regional work. We’re kind of a regional center, but we have a lot of connections to other regions in the state.”

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