Grand Rapids Faces Reality of Unemployment

By KBJR News 1

June 13, 2011 Updated Jun 13, 2011 at 8:46 PM CDT

GRAND RAPIDS, MN (Northland's Newscenter)---The Iron Range is no stranger to the harsh realities unemployment brings.

Itasca County tops unemployment charts of the region while the city of Grand Rapids teeters even higher above.

Unemployment numbers in Itasca County sit at 9.6 percent, a figure that has gone down about three percent since the height of the recession yet still tops charts.

The unemployment rate in the city of Grand Rapids rests at 12.3 percent, a figure experts say is due in part to a long term decline of manufacturing and forestry related jobs.

"Since 2002, the area has lost about 600 manufacturing jobs," said Drew Digby of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. "The other piece of it is the forestry and wood product business has fallen on tough times and there's not really an immediate answer on how you are going to replace those jobs."

Those who have suffered job loss say the effects of uncertainties in the workforce have taken a downward spiral.

"I've been looking, there just isn't anything, said Cher Wedl, who has been unemployed for more than two years. "By loosing my job I'm losing my health insurance, it forced me to go into a retirement earlier, and take my social security earlier than I normally would have just to make ends meet."

Analysts correlate the quality of life in Itasca County directly with the high unemployment rates.

"People want to live here," Jeff Borling, Director of Itasca Business Development. If they loose their jobs, they aren't necessarily going to pick up and leave their homes. And more over, their home is usually on a lake."

The problem then, lies in matching up jobs in the places that people want to live.

"If you see an opportunity, make contact with that entity, reach out to them and be proactive," said Joe Broking, CEO of Itasca Economic Development. "What we are seeing and hearing is that the folks who are more proactive that really want to be employed are the ones that are successful versus those who are just waiting for a posting to come out in the paper and then apply like you've been able to do traditionally."

Though the answer to the unemployment problem may not be concrete or happen over night, experts are confident the job market will brighten up eventually.

"That entrepreneurial spirit will have an impact but sometimes it takes five to ten years for little ideas to grow into big ideas," said Digby. "But that's really the solution for the long term."

The unemployment rate for the state of Minnesota is at 6.6 percent.

Posted to the web: Jennifer Walch