Guest column: Shop at local businesses all holiday season 

Published 8:44 pm Friday, December 9, 2022

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Guest column by Valerie Kvale

One of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce’s committees is the Chamber Business Education Collaborative (CBEC). As introduced in August, the CBEC will be sharing information monthly with readers that will include the career fields within our community, future trends within these industries, and information about education, wages and growth within these fields. It is our goal to increase awareness on the amazing career fields and careers right here in our county. We hope to educate the readers on what types of skills and education is needed for those career types in hopes of helping local employers fill vacant positions and strengthening our local workforce.

Valerie Kvale

According to statistics provided by Amanda O’Connell, South Central and South  East Minnesota Regional Analyst with DEED,  Freeborn County has 117 retail businesses, providing 1,976 jobs in 2021 (DEED, QCEW). The average annual wage for an employee working in the retail trade in Freeborn County is $35,787. Albert Lea holds 92% of the retail jobs within the county. The top retail subsectors include food and beverage stores (495 jobs), followed by general merchandise stores (351 jobs) and gas stations (347 jobs).

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O’Connell’s statistics also show that younger workers dominate the retail trade workforce compared to all other industries combined. In the fourth quarter of 2021, over half (52% or 1,581 jobs) of the retail trade workforce in Freeborn County was under 35 years old compared to 38% of all industries. 

That’s not to say that the retail industry is not open to hiring employees of all ages. One only has to look at the cashiers, waitstaff and clerks in our local businesses to see that people of all ages are providing excellent services in our retail locations.

Eric Cochlin, Hy-Vee manager store operations, states, “Hy-Vee hires people of all ages for open positions such as online personal shoppers, Kktchen and food departments always have openings.” He also said that young adults in high school can work a position at the Albert Lea Hy-Vee store and if they move out of our area for college, they can find work at a Hy-Vee in their new community.” Some other positions available at Hy-Vee include specialty department clerks, stockers and checkers. They offer a competitive wage and benefits can be available, depending on the employee’s interest and needs.

Another important piece of Albert Lea/Freeborn County’s retail industry is our growing small business community. We have locally owned businesses in dining, shopping (which includes clothing, gifts, specialty foods, automotive) and personal services, medical and more.  

Many of you are familiar with Small Business Saturday, which is the Saturday following Thanksgiving. There’s a new movement out there called Small Business Season.  We are reminded to shop local, shop small business every day. It’s important to remember that these small business owners and employees are our friends and neighbors. They live in our community. They depend on our business to remain open and thriving. 

Some statistics report that out of every dollar spent, 68 cents remain in our community. Homestead Boutique in Albert Lea is owned by Matt and Angela Moller. Angela said, “During COVID, people were shopping local. That local support has continued and is very evident; many shoppers prefer to shop in town. Other stores may experience staffing shortages and inventory challenges. Small locally owned businesses like us utilize different merchandise sourcing by working with other small business owners- the local artisans and craftsmen within our area. Shopping small, shopping local can bring unique, thoughtful gifts for everyone.”

Here in Albert Lea/Freeborn County, we are finishing the year with a focus on retail. Our local Chamber of Commerce has taken that Small Business Saturday and joined the push to consider not only Small Business Saturday but Small Business Season. We’ve all experienced the impact that COVID has had on our businesses-here in our community and across the country. We invite all to shop local first during the holiday season and all year round. And, don’t forget that we have Chamber Bucks available for purchase, to ensure your money stays local. Chamber Bucks spend just like cash at Chamber member businesses. 

Valerie Kvale is the facilitator of the Chamber Business Education Collaborative and outreach specialist/career planner for Workforce Development Inc. Albert Lea.