Minnesota governments are hiring again after a long drought

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 19, 2013 - 10:27 PM

Public-sector employment in Minnesota has grown by 1,100 jobs a month on average over the past year, ending a period of big cuts.

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Minneapolis fire recruit Logan Lauritsen held a ladder in place during training at the Minneapolis Fire department training center Monday Aug 19 ,2013 in Minneapolis, MN. ]

Photo: JERRY HOLT • jerry.holt@startribune.com,

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Cities, counties and schools are starting to hire again.

After a deep dive that started about a year after the drop in private sector employment, local government payrolls appear to have bottomed, a good sign for an economy that needs more people employed and spending money.

Local officials are feeling more comfortable adding people amid rising property values, stabilizing budgets and some restoration of confidence in the broader economy.

“It’s a big sea change there and that’s making overall job growth numbers better month to month,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist for Bank of the West. “We’ve stopped the bloodletting.”

Local governments in Minnesota have added an average of 1,100 jobs per month for the past year after shedding thousands during the economic downturn.

Oriane Casale, a labor market economist for the state of Minnesota, said the rebound started last summer. “July 2012 was the trough.”

Monday afternoon, 12 cadets for the Minneapolis Fire Department practiced with ladders at a training tower on the north side.

The cadets were in full gear in the blazing sun, but no one was complaining. They started training in July, after languishing on a waiting list for six years through the recession.

“Getting this job is like winning the lottery; everyone here will tell you that,” said Brad Lange, 34, a construction worker for the past 12 years whose wife cried when she opened the letter from the fire department. “I got lucky.”

Much attention since the recession has focused on federal employees, whose numbers have shrunk nationally and in Minnesota since spiking in 2010 thanks to stimulus dollars.

But local governments employ a larger workforce by far, with a more profound economic impact than state and federal government combined. Cities, counties and school districts employ 14 million Americans and close to 300,000 Minnesotans — compared with 2.7 million federal employees nationwide and 30,400 in Minnesota.

Cities and school districts in Minnesota are quick to point out that they’re not creating thousands of new positions, but they agree that the nose-dive of 2010 and 2011 — when local governments shed more than 5,000 jobs — has ended.

“We are not in a strong hiring mode yet,” said Steve Gatlin, city manager of Coon Rapids, which is looking to hire a city engineer and hoping to add two new police officers.

Wayzata Public Schools, a growing district, has hired new principals and is hiring teachers, but that’s because the district added 284 students in the 2012-2013 school year and expects to add 175 more this coming school year.

“All of our increased hiring over the last four or five years has been around our enrollment growth,” said Annie Doughty, executive director of human resources for the school district.

Statewide, employment at school districts was up 10 percent in Minnesota in July compared to a year earlier, an increase of about 10,000 jobs, according to unadjusted figures from the state’s labor market information office.

Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said the increase is likely the result of the low numbers a year ago, when hiring hit bottom. School districts may be adding back jobs that had been eliminated, and a 1.5 percent increase in state funding probably freed money for hiring.

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