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Southwest Region

southwest minnesota mapSouthwest Minnesota is a national leader in agricultural production, and renewable energy.

The region's thriving manufacturing sector includes food processing, machinery, printing, metal products, and computers and electronic products.

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Labor Force Declines in Southwest Minnesota

4/29/2021 9:00:00 AM

Luke Greiner

Like the rest of Minnesota, the labor force has been shrinking in the Southwest planning region throughout the past year, making it harder for employers to find workers to fill their open positions. In March of 2021, the 23-county planning region reported 210,862 workers, a decline of nearly 7,000 workers over the year. That is compared to 217,781 workers in March of 2020, right before the pandemic recession started. In comparison, the state showed a loss of about 108,000 workers, a -3.5% decline (see Figure 1) over the year.

Available Labor Force Estimate by Month

All three Economic Development Regions in Southwest Minnesota saw labor force declines since last year, with the biggest drop occurring in Region 6W – Upper Minnesota Valley, which fell -5.1% from March 2020 to March 2021, a loss of 1,148 workers. The labor force in Region 9 – South Central matched the state decline of -3.5%, equal to about 4,600 fewer workers. And Region 8 – Southwest declined just -1.9% over the year.

However, the labor force in Southwest Minnesota had already been trending downward in recent years, falling from a peak of nearly 225,000 workers in March of 2016 to about 218,000 workers in March of 2020; before falling further to 211,000 workers in March of 2021. Part of it is due to the region's aging population, with more and more workers reaching retirement age each year. But in the past year, workers are also reporting other reasons for not returning to work, including waiting to go back to their last employer, daycare or school-aged childcare needs, and on-going fear of the coronavirus.

Local workforce development partners report that employers in the manufacturing, health care, and transportation industries are hiring, and for many of the same occupations that were in demand prior to COVID-19. These include CNAs, LPNs, Medical Assistants, RNs, production workers, maintenance positions, truck drivers, mechanics, and clerical staff. The region has also now started seeing more jobs in food service and retail open up, after huge job losses in those areas in 2020.

Like before the pandemic recession, the region is still experiencing a tight labor market, as evidenced by the 4.6% regional unemployment rate reported in March of 2021. Most of the counties with the lowest rates in the state are located in Southwest Minnesota, including Rock County, which was at just 2.7% in March 2021. Twelve of the 23 counties in the region had fewer than 300 unemployed workers in March (see Map 1.)

County Unemployment Rates, March 2021 (not seasonally adjusted)

For More Information

Contact Labor Market Analysts Luke Greiner at 320-308-5378 or Mark Schultz or reach out to your local CareerForce location.

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