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Job losses mean 'tsunami' at state's workforce centers

WILLMAR -- When it comes to unemployment, the good news is that Kandiyohi County has the lowest unemployment rates in the 11-county area. At 6.4 percent, Kandiyohi County is below the state unemployment rate.

The bad news is that the county's unemployment rate has doubled since last year.

The national economic meltdown and a series of local job layoffs has brought a "tsunami of folks" to the state's workforce centers, said Barb Chaffee, chief executive officer of Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services.

In a report to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Chaffee said a record number of people are coming to the centers, like the one in Willmar, looking for assistance in finding new jobs.

"They've been coming in streams," she said.

Parking lots are full by 8 a.m., there are five to 10 people waiting in line for computers and there's standing room only in many of the centers, Chaffee said.

There have been "hundreds" of small layoffs and a growing number of large layoffs, like the one at Hutchinson Technology Inc. that resulted in 980 lost jobs in this region.

"Large layoffs are coming every day," said Chaffee, fearing that the end of the employment crash won't happen until late this fall.

The Workforce Centers are not only seeing more people, they're also seeing older people.

"The face of those individuals is different than what we've seen in the past," Chaffee said. Many are 50 years and older -- the baby boomers who have lost their longtime jobs and have not written a resume or had a job interview since they were in their 20s.

The challenge is to get those individuals the training they need to find a new job, she said.

One of the best places to get a job is at the Workforce Centers themselves.

Employees are needed to staff the crowded centers and help others who are looking for employment options.

"When the economy goes bad, that's when we shine," Chaffee said.

Some of those people who are coming in looking for training and assistance are hired to work at the centers and are now helping others find work.

Federal stimulus money could help ease some people back into the work force.

The 11-county area served by the Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services will receive $650,000 in federal stimulus funding for adult job programs, $1.7 million for the dislocated worker program and $1.6 million for the federal youth summer worker program.

"We're waiting for the Legislature (to accept the funding) and we're waiting for the rules that go along with it. But (the money) is here," Chaffee said.

The funds have to be used within 12 months, she said.

Some of the stimulus money will be used to train workers for new jobs.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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