Minnesota managed to end August with 1,100 more jobs, but a continued shortage of workers mixed with myriad other economic concerns continue to affect growth in the state.

The hiring uptick halted months of increases in Minnesota's unemployment rate, state officials said Thursday. The unemployment rate has been rising on and off since October 2018, when it was 2.8%. The rate hit 3.4% in July and slid to 3.3% in August.

Minnesota's unemployment bested the national rate of 3.7% for August.

While officials said Thursday's overall news was good, economists noted that the state's year-over-year job gains rose just 0.4% to 11,812 jobs. Nationally, employment grew faster at 1.4%.

"Even with a slight drop in the unemployment rate, the lack of available workers in Minnesota continues to pose challenges for employers," said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Grove, who regularly travels the state, said the inability to find skilled workers is employers' No. 1 complaint. And it exists regardless of business or sector. Many executives tell him it's hard to replace experienced baby boomers who retire, he said. Other companies, especially those in rural areas, said they struggle to find workers because of a lack of affordable day care.

Economic development pros also lamented that several resort owners along Lake Superior fretted about filling jobs this summer. The resorts often bring in international workers for temporary gigs as food and room-service workers. But harsh comments about immigrants by the Trump administration made it more difficult to recruit the usual crowd of international job applicants this year, Grove said.

Patty Hoffman, spokeswoman for the aluminum extrusion company Alexandria Industries in Alexandria, Minn., said her company's issues stem from the need for highly skilled workers. The company has 11 openings right now for positions that need skills such as programming manufacturing machines.

The higher the skill required, the longer it can take to find that right employee, she said.

Worker incentives

"It is still a struggle to find workers, particularly skilled workers," Hoffman said. To help the company stand out from other employers, Alexandria Industries opened its own health care clinic for workers and now pays workers' tuition for degrees in engineering and machine tooling and automation.

Grove said the state wants to help.

This week, the Governor's Workforce Development Board and the Minnesota Association of Workforce Boards launched CareerForce, a partnership of Minnesota workforce centers, nonprofits and business leaders throughout Minnesota.

The new group will offer job seekers resources by phone and via the new CareerForceMN.com website, Grove said.

The labor initiative is expected to help employers juggling several factors from tariffs and shifting suppliers to the tight job market.

While Minnesota's leisure and hospitality, construction, and financial and government services sectors added workers during August, other industries saw their employment rolls shrink.

Trade/retail, transportation and utilities lost 2,996 jobs last month. The state's information business sector lost 2,370 workers. Education and health services lost 1,271 jobs. Manufacturers cut 2,294 positions.

Several large Minnesota-based manufacturers reported last month that they have been affected by the rising U.S. dollar, slowing growth in China and Germany, and complications from fluctuating U.S. trade tariffs and policies.

Some companies made cuts. 3M announced cost-cutting measures earlier this year that resulted in nearly 2,000 job cuts worldwide. It is not known how many took place in Minnesota.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725