In a one-year period through January 2009, Minnesota companies shed about 75,000 jobs, bringing the state's unemployment rate to 7.6 percent. However, the education and health services sector actually added over 17,000 positions during that period, according to Steve Hine, research director for the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development (DEED). That growth could signal favorable prospects for companies selling products or services to hospitals, medical or dental clinics, nursing and residential care facilities, child or family service agencies, or vocational rehabilitation programs.

To a degree, the recession's effects are also location-specific. For example, employment in the Twin Cities MSA (metropolitan statistical area) dropped 2.8 percent through January, with more modest declines reported in the Duluth and St. Cloud reporting areas. But, employment during that same period actually increased in the Rochester, Fargo-Moorhead and Grand Forks MSAs, suggesting that those local economies are healthier than the region as a whole.

As federal stimulus spending begins to work its way through the economy, Hine says it will have the most immediate effect on construction businesses. That means firms that supply goods or services to civil engineering, heavy construction and related companies could see an uptick in near-term sales activity. That spending, in turn, may help generate a ripple effect that boosts sales growth in other hard-hit industries, such as manufacturing, distribution or durable goods.

"As much as the economy fell in domino fashion, it will rise again in that way," says Hine. "Spending on road construction projects, for example, should have a multiplier effect that helps the broader economy.

Brett Pyrtle is principal of Turning Point Communications LLC, a communications consulting business based in St. Paul.