For instance; both Enbridge--- putting in this pipeline no one really wants, and Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, the contractor building the Bemidji Regional Event Center (BREC), are both being accused of racist hiring practices by Native Americans who are suffering the worst brunt of unemployment and the resulting horrific poverty in and around Bemidji.
Perhaps the Native American Indian Labor Union #12 making these allegations of racist hiring practices does not make big enough financial contributions to Minnesota Public Radio for this aspect of the story to merit Mr. Tom Robertson's attention... I would note that both Enbridge and Kraus-Anderson make huge contributions to Minnesota Public Radio.
Anyone interested in the rest of the story Tom Robertson conveniently hasn't told would be advised to check out the Bemidji Pioneer Press dated November 2, 2009 on the front page.
I find it very interesting how Tom Robertson has used the issue of sky-rocketing unemployment to cover up the issue of the racist hiring practices of MPR's largest contributors.
No doubt the outside management firm hired by public officials knowing the poverty created by unemployment locally will be bringing along employees from outside of the area and this company will also be making very substantial "contributions" to Minnesota Public Radio.
With all this talk about education in this story by Tom Robertson, one does have to wonder why the Bemidji City planners find it necessary to hire from outside the region the Bemidji Regional Event Center will be serving. Is this some kind of commentary on the quality of education being provided by Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College that local management can not be found?
Perhaps Rita Albrecht the Bemidji community planner who told Kraus-Anderson they could forget about affirmative action in doing their hiring could explain all of this.
Alan L. Maki
Director of Organizing,
Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council
This was featured on the Yahoo News Service:
A tale of 2 economies
By TOM ROBERTSON / Minnesota Public Radio | Posted: Saturday, November 7, 2009 10:55 am | No Comments Posted
BEMIDJI, Minn. - Bemidji is the Minnesota city with the third-highest peak in unemployment, at more than 17 percent.
Getting a read on Bemidji's economy depends on where you look these days. You can find both ongoing struggle and, believe it or not, boom times. It's a tale of two economies.
There have been a few large, high-profile factory layoffs in the Bemidji area. But the city's jobless rate soared because of smaller layoffs as well, where businesses cut jobs just one or two at a time.
It wasn't news when Mike Mohler lost his job as a radio advertising salesman back in May 2008. Since then, Mohler has filled out applications at close to 100 businesses. Sitting at his home computer, Mohler reads from his latest rejection letter.
``'You were not selected. Good luck in future endeavors.' And then the publisher signed off on it,'' he said. ``I've got a stack of those kinds of responses.''
Mohler is 56 years old. He and his wife have lost their health insurance. His unemployment benefits come to an end in December, unless there's an extension. Mohler says despite a degree from Bemidji State University and years of sales experience, no one will hire him.
``I grew up here. I have so many business contacts and personal contacts. And I just can't crack the ice, I just can't get through to anybody. It's frustrating,'' said Mohler.
Many of the area's small-scale layoffs have been in the construction industry, one of the state's hardest hit sectors. New home construction in the Bemidji area has withered to less than half of what it was in 2006.
Howie Zetah owns a mid-size construction company that a few years ago employed close to 25 people. Now, it's about half that.
``We're tightening our belt,'' said Zetah. ``I've had to lay some people off. I've got very good people, and it hurts to lay someone off, because you're dealing with families here.''
In good times, Zetah's company would build half a dozen custom homes a year. Now, Zetah and other contractors are taking smaller jobs like remodeling and even minor carpentry repair jobs, just to keep busy. Zetah says people are scared to spend money.
``I think people have the ability to spend money, and to build and to do things that they wanted to do. They're just unsure, and their confidence in our economy and where we're going to be a year from now isn't there,'' said Zetah.
But there may be signs that's changing. Zetah just found out a homebuilding project that had been cancelled is back on again.
While Zetah wonders if that's the start of a turnaround, other businesses are booming.
At a neighborhood bar and grill on Bemidji's south side, waitress Laurie Thomas is making a lot more money in tips these days. Thomas says business has nearly doubled since oil pipeline workers started showing up.
``It has been a tremendous change. Once they came to town, it's just been packed here every night,'' said Thomas. ``They'll buy rounds for everyone and not really worry about the money at all.''
Late this summer, Enbridge Energy began building a crude oil pipeline from Canada, across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wis. The Bemidji area alone saw an influx of close to 800 well-paid pipeline workers. Some were hired locally, and some come from other parts of the country.
The pipeliners have gobbled up rental housing and motel rooms. John Billingsley is a welder who came all the way from Texarkana, Ark. He says pipeline workers are buying everything from big screen TVs to cookware.
Pipeline workers will spend millions of dollars in the Bemidji area over the next eight to 10 months.
And there's another project stimulating the local economy. The city is building a $33 million facility that includes a hockey arena for Bemidji State University. By winter, the project will put 250 people to work. Some of those workers say without it, they'd probably be unemployed.
Bemidji's jobless rate has fallen dramatically since it peaked in February. It's now around 11 percent, but that's still way above normal.
The problem is, Bemidji's boom in commercial construction hasn't spread to other parts of the area's economy.
Northern Minnesota's important timber industry is still on its knees because of the bust in new home construction. Late last year, Ainsworth Lumber Co. permanently shut down its plant in Bemidji and laid off 140 workers. That, in turn, put some loggers and haulers in the region out of business.
Economists say the shutdown took $90 million out of the region's economy.
But it doesn't end there. Factories producing machine parts, electrical wiring and drapery fabrics have cut hundreds of jobs, too.
Even as the recession appears to be over, first-time claims for jobless benefits in September jumped 18 percent over the same period last year.
The jobless rate in the overall Bemidji region is lower than in the city itself, but for both areas, unemployment remains well above average for this time of year.
``I don't think the pain is done yet,'' said Dave Hengel, who heads economic development at the Headwaters Regional Development Commission in Bemidji.
``Is there light at the end of the tunnel? I sure hope so, and I think so. But at this point, it's the most difficult economy I've been in in the 22 years I've been here.''
Some economic experts say this recession is likely to reshape the area's economy. The timber industry, for example, has been devastated, but some lumber mills survived by reducing costs and finding new niches for wood products. That includes a growing interest in tapping timber for green energy biofuels.
Another sign of that transformation is that unemployed workers are heading back to school. Post-secondary schools in Bemidji saw some of the highest enrollment increases in the state. At Northwest Technical College, for example, enrollment has jumped by nearly 17 percent.
One of those new students is Chris Kuzel, 51. She was part of the 100 layoffs earlier this year at a wiring manufacturer in Bemidji, where she had worked for 15 years.
``When I got laid off, I had no education or anything to fall back on,'' said Kuzel. ``Here I am, going back to school to get that education that I should have gotten years ago.''
Kuzel qualifies for the state's dislocated worker program, which pays for up to two years of school. She's hoping to get into health care, one of the state's most stable industries. Kuzel is studying to be a pharmaceutical technician.
``School is hard after being out for 30 years. It's been tough. I'm doing it because I have to. But it's not the easy way out,'' said Kuzel. ``It would be a lot easier going after and taking a lesser-paying job. But I decided after 15 years I was going to come out of this with something to fall back on next time.''
Right now, the question is whether there will be enough of a recovery to create jobs for Kuzel and others getting retrained when they graduate. So far, the signs are mixed at best.
Posted in State-and-regional, Mn on Saturday, November 7, 2009 10:55 am
Alan L. Maki
58891 County Road 13
Warroad, Minnesota 56763
Cell phone: 651-587-5541
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