Long commutes viable for many FF residents [UPDATED]Published 10:20am Monday, August 8, 2011 Updated 12:25pm Monday, August 8, 2011
Three and a half years ago, Steven Lausch made a career change that required a lot of driving — 10 hours a week, in fact. And that’s just the commute.
Lausch, who previously worked at Minnesota Motor Company, took a job in Fargo as the general manager of Wallwork Financial Corporation, an independent finance and lease company.
He is one of more than 200 Fergus Falls area residents who commuted to Fargo for work in 2009, according to an economic study tool offered by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Center for Economic Studies.
“It was just an offer that was placed in front of me,” said Lausch, who lives with his wife, Kristi, and two kids on seven acres of property on the Otter Tail River north of Fergus Falls. “I wasn’t looking to make a job change … I just felt like I would have regretted it if I didn’t take it.”
He did take it, and he doesn’t regret it. Lausch really enjoys working for Wallwork, and he said the job will likely drop his retirement age by a few years.
But it does have its downfalls.
“I’m usually up a little before 6 (a.m.), on the road by about 6:20, and I’m usually home by about 6:30 or 7 at night,” he said, adding, “The long days were certainly an adjustment.”
Lausch tries to make the best of it by listening to books on tape. He goes through around three books every two weeks, when he’s not listening to satellite radio.
“The driving in the morning is usually not a big deal,” he said. “I usually enjoy it.” But the drive back home can be hard, especially when it’s nice outside or he misses his family or he has things to do.
Lausch is not alone, according to the “OnTheMap” tool, based on Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics from the U.S. Census. The tool combines census information with unemployment insurance records to create snapshots of a number of employment trends, from where people in a certain area work to what a workforce’s level of education is to how far most people in an area travel to get to work.
The tool is not perfect, said Jeff Matson, geographic information system coordinator at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.
OnTheMap only takes information from people eligible for unemployment insurance (which leaves out a few people groups, like the self-employed and some federal employees). It also leaves out people who work for a company based in another city but who stay in their own area (for example, a DNR employee might work around Fergus Falls, but the tool could think he or she is employed in St. Paul).
Overall, however, Matson said that the information provided is a reasonably accurate — if sometimes rough — picture of worker trends.
In 2009 (the latest data for OnTheMap), around 215 (2.7 percent) of the workers living within a 10-mile radius of Fergus Falls worked in the city limits of Fargo for their primary job.
More Fergus Falls area residents worked in Fargo than in any other city besides Fergus Falls itself (around 5,200, or 65.5 percent, not counting the many people who work nearby but outside of the city limits). After Fargo came Pelican Rapids (146, 1.8 percent) and Wahpeton (115, 1.4 percent).
On the other hand, not too many people live in Fargo and work their primary jobs in or around Fergus Falls. The city’s top worker importers in 2009 were Breckenridge (100, 1.1 percent), Pelican Rapids (87, 0.9 percent), and Elbow Lake (86, 0.9 percent). Fargo was just behind with 86 people.
Overall, roughly 5,500 workers live and work in Fergus Falls or the surrounding area. About 2,500 people live in the area and are employed elsewhere, while around 3,900 live outside the 10-mile radius of the city and work within it, meaning that more people are coming into the area to work than are leaving it.
Matson said those numbers aren’t too surprising because Fergus Falls is relatively isolated from any other major job centers.
“I think people want a balance” of worker inflow and outflow, he said. “They want in theory to say there’s a job for every resident or a resident for every job.”
Lausch knows others who live in Fergus Falls and work in Fargo, and he said most of them cite the same advantages and annoyances of the arrangement. But for the 25-year Fergus Falls resident, leaving what he has locally to move closer to his job “was not an option.” His wife runs a successful business in town, he and his kids cherish their rural, outdoor-focused environment, and of course there’s the connections they’ve all made over the years.
“I couldn’t replace what I have in Fergus,” he said.
Click here to access the OnTheMap tool.