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Employment data highlights Becker County joint governance meeting on Tuesday; Ron Zeman reappointed vice-mayor of DL

Employment data for Becker County was presented to local governing authorities at their quarterly meeting, hosted by the City of Detroit Lakes on Jan. 4. The joint governance board is made up of a majority of the local governing authorities, including: The Becker County Board of Commissioners, Detroit Lakes City Council, the Detroit Lakes School Board, and the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce. The next meeting will be hosted by the Chamber of Commerce on April 5.

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Members of the Becker County Joint Governance Board, including: members of the Detroit Lakes City Council, Becker County Board of Commissioners, Detroit Lakes school board and the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce, meet for their quarterly meeting at the City Administration Building in Detroit Lakes on Jan. 4, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Local governing authorities in Becker County received a detailed presentation on the current state of regional employment at the joint governance meeting hosted by the City of Detroit Lakes on Tuesday, Jan. 4.

Dan Wenner, alderman for Ward One, and members of the Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program presented the most recent Becker County data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which boasted an unemployment percentage of 5.8% in 2020 — lower than the state's unemployment percentage of 6.2% for the year.

As of November 2021 in Becker County, the unemployment rate had fallen back down to 2.2%, with 415 county residents claiming unemployment assistance.

"It's back down again," said Wenner, during the meeting. "So, that's pretty negligible. I mean everybody that is practically looking for work are working, except for a few seasonal people that are laid off right now."

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DEED projects the local labor force will grow slowly, from 16,927 workers in 2019 to an estimated 17,243 workers in 2023, and 17,928 workers in 2033.

"If you were to contrast that with the change from 1990 to 2000, our labor force growth was 23.7%," he said. "So we're going to see pretty slow growth here in Becker County in the next 12 years or so. So that's a concern and one of the things that you'd want to look at, how do you get more people in the labor force?"

Wenner highlighted labor participation for older residents and noted that Becker County lags behind the statewide average in workers between ages 55 to 74. In 2019, the Becker County labor participation for ages 55 to 64 was 69%, compared to the Minnesota average of 73%. The participation for ages 65 to 74 was 25%, with the statewide average reaching 27.9%

Currently, the average wage in Minnesota's west-central region, which includes Becker County, is $19.61 per hour, compared to the statewide average of $23.00 per hour. However, a majority of the state's workforce is located in the 7-county Twin Cities metro area, which has an average wage of $24.93 per hour.

In 2010, workers in Becker County saw in average wage of $12.29 per hour.

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Dan Wenner, right, alderman for Ward One in Detroit Lakes, presents regional employment data to the Joint Governance Board of Becker County during their quarterly meeting at the City Administration Building in Detroit Lakes on Jan. 4, 2021. Members of the Joint Governance Board include: members of the Detroit Lakes City Council, Becker County Board of Commissioners, Detroit Lakes school board and the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Cost of living is also less expensive in Becker County. In 2020, a single adult required an average of $30,184 for various living expenses, including: food, health care, housing, transportation, taxes and other minimal expenses. For a typical family of two adults and one child in Becker County, the average yearly expenses were $48,646, which is $10,000 less than the statewide typical family cost average of $58,800.

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As of the second quarter in 2021, more than one-third of all job vacancies in Becker County's region were in accommodation and food service industry, 3,646 openings, and retail sales, 2,388 openings. In the entire northwest region, there were 17,762 openings across all industries as of last summer.

Aaron Dallmann, alderman at Large in Detroit Lakes, said he believed struggles surrounding child care in our area were one of the driving factors behind the region's lower labor participation rate, which was 63.5% in 2019 compared to the statewide average of 69.7%.

"Throwing money at it doesn't do anything," said Dallmann. "We've got to be more proactive on telling the state of Minnesota, hey, listen, this is what we need, you need to let your guidelines go a little bit easier so people can create more daycares out of a house in town versus what companies dictate they have to pay for employees and daycare."

Kelcey Klemm, city administrator for Detroit Lakes, said child care regulations were only part of the problem; the other was economics.

"The daycare centers can't afford to pay the trained staff that they need to work in the daycare centers enough money to keep them working there," said Klemm. "They could go make more money working at some of these other jobs without a degree, so they can't keep people employed and the economics are broken. People don't make enough money to pay enough for the daycare centers and for the daycare so they can turn around and make enough money to support it."

The next Becker County Joint Governance meeting will be April 5 and hosted by the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce

Also, during a 2-minute-long, annual evening meeting of the Detroit Lakes City Council on Jan. 4, Ron Zeman, alderman for Ward One, was appointed, and unanimously approved, to serve is his 14th consecutive year as vice-mayor of Detroit Lakes. The vice-mayor's duties are to fill in at meetings and official events for the Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk, if he were unable to attend any functions. Zeman has served as vice-mayor to Brenk in every year since Brenk was first elected more than 14 years ago.

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