We Need To Address Why People Don’t Move Here

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by Reed Anfinson, Editor-Publisher

Last Saturday 8,500 Minnesotans lost their unemployment benefits. As further cuts are made to the program in 2014, another 57,000 people who have been collecting extended long-term unemployment benefits will be dropped from the program in the state in 2014.  On average, those people will be losing about $1,166 in monthly benefits
That is a good thing that will have a positive impact, even in Swift County, some argue. It will lower the federal deficit. It will mean another 65,500 people seeking jobs in the state by the end of the coming new year, they say.
Others say it will be a drag on the U.S. economy just when it is starting to recover. All those people losing benefits will be spending less in stores. Some may find jobs, but others will have to seek welfare benefits to pay for simple necessities such as food.
It also underscores the vast disparity between how well the affluent in America are doing and the declining state of the middle class. Many who can’t find jobs once earned a middle class wage to support themselves and their families. Today, with many of those middle class jobs gone, they have to seek service industry jobs that pay minimum wage – which leaves them seeking public assistance programs to get by.
And, it angers many of the long-term unemployed who see themselves as hardworking people who simply can’t find a job.
In the counties in the immediate region, about 170 people lost their long-term unemployment benefits last Saturday. That number will grow substantially when even more people lose their benefits by the end of 2014.
Those who have argued for the cuts say that it will help solve the problem some businesses face in attracting workers. In the Benson area there has been a chronic shortage of workers for manufacturing businesses.
As we have written in past columns, the challenge we face in rural Minnesota is not so much a job creation challenge as it is a challenge to create workers. We have had the jobs to offer, but businesses just can’t find qualified employees to fill the vacancies. That has led companies like CNH to use employment agencies to bring in skilled workers from around the country.
We also face the problem of a declining population as more people die than are born, as farms get ever larger with fewer families living on the land, as children graduate and leave seeking education and opportunity in the big cities, and as family sizes go from four, five and six to one, two or three children.
Does the loss of unemployment benefits for a relative handful of employees in the region mean an easing of the worker shortages for area business? We doubt it. Will it mean people looking to move to the community if they do take a job locally? Unlikely. Are we presented with an opportunity to attract workers and residents to the Benson area? Maybe.
Here are some of the barriers to bringing workers to the area discussed at an economic development meeting earlier in 2013:
- They can’t find daycare so they look for communities where they can readily find it.
- The daycare facilities don’t have flexible hours that accommodate people working shifts.
- Housing
- Their spouse has a job where they live now.
- Their spouse wants to live in a bigger city.
- They don’t want to invest in a home if they might be losing their job in the near future. The assurance of job stability is needed.
- Moving and relocation costs could be a problem.
- Amenities: We have a movie theatre, outdoor and indoor swimming pools, lots of parks, a golf course and tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, and a river. There are a few bars and restaurants. But we do lack the offerings of a big city or a community with lakes.
- It is too expensive to commute.
- Young workers are very mobile. They tend to migrate in and out. How do we get them to stay?
- Work ethic of some younger people. They just aren’t interested in working that hard.
- Not enough young people in our schools are being trained to fill the jobs that are open at local businesses.
Opportunity favors the prepared. What have we done in 2013 to solve any of the above-mentioned obstacles to attracting people to our area? We can’t think of one. What will we do in 2014 that is any different than we have done in the past year? That question has yet to be answered though it is the most pressing question facing Benson and Swift County now and in the coming years.

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