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Jobless rate lowest in 7 years

Published 11:31am Tuesday, November 26, 2013 Updated 3:32pm Friday, March 21, 2014

The unemployment rate in Otter Tail County dipped below 4 percent in October and is the lowest it’s been in seven years.

With a labor force of more than 30,000, Otter Tail County’s unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in October and 4.2 percent in September, according to the unemployment data recently released by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“It is safe to say… definitely we are in a strong recovery,” said Harold Stanislawski, executive director of the Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Commission. Though he wouldn’t say that the economy is fully recovered yet.

He called it “unprecedented low levels” of unemployment. The last time it was under 4 percent in Otter Tail County was October 2006 when it was at a 3.7 percent rate. The numbers also dipped from a year ago, when the unemployment rate in both September and October was 4.5 percent.

Stanislawski has seen strong employment in the fields of health care and agriculture recently, among others.

“There seems to be much more employment in the manufacturing sector these days,” Stanislawski said. “Orders are sufficient enough where a full work force is required.”

While it’s all good news, these unemployment numbers should act as a guide because they don’t tell the whole story, he said. They don’t account for each person out there or for those who are self employed who may decide to move into an employee/employer arrangement.

Lower unemployment rates generally present more options. It could give retirees expressing interest about getting back into the work force a chance. Recent graduates might also have a chance to find work locally, too, which is something Stanislawski thinks about.

“I think anytime you have lower unemployment means there are more jobs available,” he said. “We need to do a good job of making sure that our young people know where the opportunities are.”

He hopes to do that next week with a Career Day Thursday, Dec. 5 at Kennedy Secondary School. The joint effort from the Fergus Falls Chamber of Commerce, school district, Minnesota WorkForce Center in Fergus Falls and EIC will attract various businesses and colleges from across the region.

Unemployment numbers will likely rise in the coming months, due to seasonal jobs declining, such as construction, but Stanislawski doesn’t expect the unemployment rates to be as high as they were even last year during the same time. He sees the environment as being pretty stable, but you just never know.

“We live in a very changing environment all the time,” Stanislawski said. “If something happens in the world some place, and it affects a certain sector, things can change pretty quickly. Consistency and stability is key.”

The four-county area including Otter Tail, Becker, Clay and Wilkin counties sits at 3.2 percent unemployment.

The state of Minnesota saw similar numbers, as its unemployment rate dropped below 5 percent for the first time in nearly six years. The state’s October unemployment rate was 4.8 percent, the same as it was in December 2007, which is generally considered to be the month that the recession started. The stat’s unemployment rate jumped above 5 percent three months later and stayed there until now.

The state added 9,900 jobs in October, for a total of nearly 50,000 jobs added in the past year, according to DEED.

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