What are the forces moving the Minnesota economy? Adam Belz tries to identify the trends and show the connections between Minnesota and the larger U.S. and global economies. You can connect with him on Twitter: @adambelz

Minnesota employers added 2,600 jobs in March, construction booming

Posted by: Adam Belz under Business trends, Economics Updated: April 17, 2014 - 12:33 PM

Minnesota employers added 2,600 jobs in March, a healthy bounce after a slow start to the year led by gains in professional and business services and the biggest bump in construction employment in two years.

The state’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.8 percent, well below the national rate of 6.7 percent, according to figures released Thursday by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Construction firms hired 2,700 people in March despite the snow and cold, an encouraging sign for an industry that has been slow to replace the 30,000 jobs it lost in the recession.

“Considering that March was still the depths of winter here, it does show signs that construction is likely to exhibit some real growth as spring finally arrives,” said Steve Hine, a labor market economist for the state.

Construction employment is up 11 percent over the past 12 months. The gains in March offset losses in retail, private education and hotels and restaurants.

The state has added 41,582  jobs in the past year, a growth rate of 1.5 percent. That’s slightly below the U.S. job growth rate of 1.6 percent over the same period.

Minnesota’s labor force hit a milestone, surpassing the 3 million mark for the first time in state history. The state labor force participation rate – the share of the population that is either working or looking for a job -- climbed 0.1 percent to 70.6 percent.

“After extreme winter weather and a slow start to the year, March gains indicate renewed strength in the economy and continued growth in the months to come,” said Katie Clark Sieben, commissioner of the state economic development agency. “Minnesota is adding jobs at a steady pace and now has added 33,000 more jobs than its previous all-time employment peak that occurred right before the recession.”

Professional and business services led all sectors last month with 3,500 new jobs, the economic development agency reported.

Other sectors that gained jobs were financial activities (up 1,200), government (up 1,000), information (up 400), manufacturing (up 200) and logging and mining (up 100).

Sectors that lost jobs last month were leisure and hospitality (down 2,700), transportation and utilities (down 2,300), education and health services (down 1,000) and other services (down 500).

All of Minnesota’s biggest cities have added jobs over the past 12 months except Rochester, where employment is down slightly. St. Cloud and Mankato are both up more than 2 percent, the Twin Cities are up 1.4 percent, and Duluth-Superior is up slightly, by two-tenths of a percent.

Best Buy's Joly calls for Congress to pass Marketplace Fairness Act

Posted by: Adam Belz under Business trends Updated: April 15, 2014 - 4:06 PM

Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly on Tuesday renewed his call for Congress to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would force online merchants to collect sales tax from customers.

“We don’t think the government should pick the winners,” he told the Economic Club of Minnesota. “We don’t think the government should subsidize Amazon and eBay.”

Asked what Best Buy’s other government affairs priorities are, he said the company has five: “Number one is e-fairness, number two is e-fairness, number three is e-fairness, number four is e-fairness and number five is e-fairness.”

Joly spoke a day after Shawn Score, the chief of U.S. retail stores for the company, stepped down after seven months in his new position. He did not mention Score’s resignation, but Matt Furman, a company spokesman, said “there’s not much more to the story.”

Shari Ballard, Best Buy’s human resources chief, will take over Score’s duties.

The change comes as Best Buy continues a turnaround program called “Renew Blue” that has been in progress for more than a year. Best Buy cut costs by $765 million last year and, in February, laid off 2,000 store managers. CEO Hubert Joly has said the restructuring would be focused on eliminating inefficiencies more than reducing workforce.

The company is coming off a difficult holiday season, the biggest sales period of the year, in which it cut prices and ate into margins to remain competitive with Amazon, Wal-Mart and other retailers. It produced weaker-than-expected results during its fourth quarter. After its stock more than tripled last year, Best Buy shares are down 36 percent so far in 2014.

Company shares were down more than 2 percent Tuesday afternoon, partly on the weakness of a new earnings outlook from H.H. Gregg.

But Joly was upbeat Tuesday, reiterating his plan for Best Buy to compete with companies like Amazon and Walmart by focusing on advice, service and convenience.

He said the electronics retailer’s stores are profitable, and 70 percent of Americans are within 15 minutes of a store.

“We are now using our stores as distribution centers,” he said. “Amazon has 60 distribution centers. We have one thousand.”

Opening Belz, April 15

Posted by: Adam Belz under Business trends Updated: April 15, 2014 - 10:33 AM

Best Buy’s U.S. retail store president steps down w/out explanation – StarTribune
Google buys Titan Aerospace as web giants battle for air supremacy – WSJ
No, older people have not paid for their Medicare benefits – Washington Post
“Bright Continent,” the untold story of rapid economic growth in Africa – NYTimes
British inflation falls to lowest level since 2009 – Guardian
77 mistakes people make in investing – Motley Fool
Nice description of cherry blossom season in Japan – Aeon
Cartier shop rises from ruins in Lisbon, Portugal – Bloomberg
Yasiel Puig’s incredible journey from Cuba to the LA Dodgers – LA Magazine

Opening Belz, April 14

Posted by: Adam Belz under Business trends Updated: April 14, 2014 - 9:20 AM

Al Franken’s solitary opposition to the Comcast/Time Warner merger – CNN Reliable
Butter churns up a comeback thanks to margarine backlash – StarTribune
Ohio geologists find “probable” link btw fracking & small earthquakes – LA Times
Production has dispersed, but U.S. auto R&D still dominated by Detroit – Chicago Fed
New private commuter rail ready to roll in Central Florida – Reuters
Are robots to blame for capital’s ascendance over labor, or globalization? – Noah Smith
5 of 6 Americans can’t accurately place Ukraine on a map – Washington Post
Douthat on diversity, dishonesty, the Mozilla CEO, Brandeis and Hirsi Ali – NY Times

Opening Belz, April 11

Posted by: Adam Belz under Business trends Updated: April 11, 2014 - 9:04 AM

MNsure calls in Deloitte to fix its troubled computer system – StarTribune
Oshkosh Corp. cutting 760 jobs in war vehicle division – Journal Sentinel
Perhaps world’s largest truck wash opens in the Bakken – Bismarck Tribune
Ex-wife of “Madoff of the Midwest” must give back $2.85m – Des Moines Register
Soda sales slide, Coke bets on more advertising – WSJ
MN health tech firm acquired for $550m – StarTribune
Anxiety about future of London, NYC, is almost a cottage industry – Telegraph
Twin Cities home sales cool, prices still up year-over-year – StarTribune
Cautiously welcoming our new computer overlords – New Yorker
China ex-president’s 28-yr-old grandson is doing well for himself – Reuters
Oldie but a goodie…Walmart’s historic expansion, animated – Excel Hero
What’s Michael Lewis reading? He tells you – NY Times

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