Hope and worry in manufacturing

We’ve been asking people the past couple weeks to tell us when they’ll believe the recession’s over. The typical answer we’re getting, “When the jobs come back.”

The numbers say we’re starting to see the recovery. But it’s pretty clear there’s a disconnect between the data and what people see on the ground, especially in manufacturing, that crucial part of Minnesota’s economy.

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That hit home for me reading through MPR’s package of stories this week looking at some of the Minnesota towns hardest hit by the recession. Comments by Dan Skersick of Bemidji jumped out at me. A source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, Skersick wrote:

I work in the engineering dept. at TEAM Industries in Bagley. TEAM designs, manufactures drivetrains and components mainly for recreational vehicles. We have laid off about 700 of 1,300 employees in 7 plants, we have shut down a plant in Baxter. We had our worst year finacially in company history.

The outlook is flat. The employees that are still employed have absorbed pay cuts, wage freezes, vacation reductions, 401 benefits stripped, temporary layoffs, medical benefit increases, and hours being cut. The health of our industry is far from good.

The worry is still there, even though the state’s manufacturing numbers are slowly improving. Minnesota’s September jobless numbers showed a drop in the unemployment rate.Manufacturing added 1,800 jobs and over-the-year manufacturing job losses dropped to 36,900 after topping out above 40,000 in the August data.

It’s a pattern we’ll have to live with: The data may look better than what we see at our workplaces and what we hear from our neighbors. Sometimes even the data will be mysterious.

Creighton University’s “leading economic indicator” for Minnesota continues to climb. It’s newest data this week “continues to point to improving economic conditions in the months ahead.”

But it also forecasts a bump up in the unemployment rate, back closer to 8 percent, by the end of the year.


“I’ll believe the recession’s over when… ” Finish that sentence here. Tell us when you’ll be convinced things are turning.

Click on the map icons below to see what Minnesotans in our network have been telling us about the jobs climate around them.

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