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Northland employers vie for workers

The Duluth Entertainment Covention Center as seen from the air. (News Tribune file photo)

A couple of approaching events could help area employers and prospective workers make a connection.

In all, 115 employers have signed up for a job fair this Thursday, from 10 a.m to 3 p.m., at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's Pioneer Hall. Ronda Rutford, a Duluth workforce development representative, said a diverse lineup of companies from the Twin Ports and beyond will offer on-site interviews.

"There will be a wide cross-section of employers — some from up on the Range, from Ely, from Grand Rapids, Willow River/Moose Lake. They're all really anxious. We could have taken on more, but we had to have a cut-off date so we could print the materials," she said.

Then, on Wednesday, April 18, a forum on employee recruitment will be held from 7:30-10:30 a.m. at Greysolon Ballroom, 231 E. Superior St. The event is the second in a three-part series, and interest has run strong in an increasingly tight labor market, as evidenced by the 160 people who attended the first forum in February.

"People were very receptive and very hungry for this information," said Heather Rand, director of business and economic development for the city of Duluth.

With Duluth's unemployment rate running at less than 4 percent, the data shows that workers in the region are in historically slim supply, Rand noted.

"This is why you're going to want to start paying attention and doing things differently when it comes to employee recruitment, workforce retention, training. You've got to try some things that are different, because the same-old, same-old is not going to work," she said.

The forum will feature a presentation by Janice Urbanik, executive director of Partners for a Competitive Workforce, who will talk about how employers in the Cincinnati area are facing recruitment challenges.

"They're doing some really innovative things with respect to recruiting some segments of the population that sometimes a lot of communities miss, whether it's women or seniors or more diverse groups. So we're really looking forward to what they're doing along those lines and how that can transfer to our area," Rand said.

A panel of experts from different industries around Minnesota also will take part in the event and will share some of their recruitment strategies.

"The panelists are coming with some successes that they've had. So I think that will be really helpful for some of our local employers to hear," said Betsy Harmon, manager of the Duluth WorkForce Center.

Rutford said local employers are considering new employment pools these days, including convicts who have served their time and are looking to re-enter society. She stressed that these prospects still need to be "good fits" but noted a growing number of success stories.

"The labor market information that came out recently indicated that, you know the unemployment rate is at one level, but then all of a sudden you see an influx of individuals who have not been participating in the workforce. So we've got more people coming out to look for a job now, and I think employers see them as an opportunity. And it seems as if some employers are being a little more willing to take some chances on people," Harmon said.

To learn more

For more information on the April 12th Northland Job Fair, visit or call Rhonda Rutford at (218) 302-8406.

For more information on the April 18th workforce recruitment forum, visit