Jobless rate down one year after fire

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 26, 2002

One year after the Farmland fire, the Freeborn County unemployment rate is settling back to the healthier numbers it was posting prior to the fire.

According to the Minnesota Workforce Center, Freeborn County posted a 4.2 percent unemployment rate for the month of July. Surrounding counties fared a bit better through July; Mower was at 2.9 percent, Faribault was at 3.2 percent, Blue Earth was at 2.9 percent, and Olmsted was at 3.4 percent. Both Waseca and Steele counties posted similar figures to Freeborn at 4.3 percent and 4.2 percent respectively. The state average was at 4 percent for the month.

The unemployment rate for July 2001, the month of the Farmland fire, was 5.6 percent in Freeborn County. In 2000, the rate for July was 3 percent, and the rate did not exceed 3.6 percent the entire summer of 2000.

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Throughout most of south-central Minnesota there is an obvious decrease in unemployment since January. Freeborn’s January rate was at 5.5 percent. It was the highest it has been since July 2001, when it hit 5.6 percent. Since January the rate has settled to down around 4 percent. Unemployment numbers are typically lower in the summer than the winter in Minnesota.

A statement by Manpower, Inc., a staffing service that conducts a regular job-market survey, noted that at the end of 2001 the economy seemed to be making a comeback, with 33 percent of local companies surveyed anticipated making staff increases while only 7 percent indicated probable decreases. Even as recently as May there were indications of a 27 percent staff increase in the area. But the most recent survey indicated growth would not be as considerable in the October-December quarter.

&uot;Considering all that we have been through in the past several months I think these are fairly good numbers,&uot; said Allen Pelvit, director of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

According to the Manpower survey, the Austin-Albert Lea area can expect have a 3 percent increase in staffing compared with some larger increases in surrounding areas. The Faribault, Northfield, Owatonna and Waseca area are expecting a 27 percent net staff increase for their area. Mankato is anticipating increases of 10 percent, Rochester expects a 20 percent increase and Winona predicts a 13 percent increase. The quarterly surveys are based upon telephone interviews with employers.

According to the press release from Manpower, &uot;An ambivalent staffing pattern awaits job seekers in the Austin/Albert Lea area this fall.&uot;

Pelvit said that winter and fall are usually times of the highest unemployment because seasonal workers are usually off of work throughout those months.

The current Freeborn County unemployment rate is not too much higher than what we usually regard as healthy, Pelvit said. &uot;Unemployment numbers do also incorporate those who do not work and seasonal workers.&uot;

Overall, Pelvit said he is optimistic about the economic future for the Albert Lea/Austin area.

&uot;Inevitably, if you look throughout our history, eventually we get out of recessions,&uot; he said. &uot;We will prosper. There is light at the end of the tunnel.&uot;