Welcome to "The Memo." I'll be your host for the next few weeks. Typically, I cover the mining and energy industries, but I'll be taking on more general business news now, too.

Help me out by sending tips, ideas and feedback at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.

With this weekly column, I'll try to give a rundown of interesting or noteworthy business tidbits.

Let's get started.

Unemployment down

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I'll start with the good, well the OK, news. Unemployment rates in the Duluth area — St. Louis, Carlton and Douglas counties — reached 6% in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That's down from 8% in August and down from the pandemic-layoff peak in April and May, when unemployment hit 12.3% and 12.4%, respectively.

But nearly 5,400 people in the three-county region have left the labor force since March.

In the fall Regional Economic Indicators Forum held last week, Nathan Brand, an economics and financial markets student the University of Minnesota Duluth, looked at the labor market's larger area (15 counties in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin), and wrote that it might account for the lower unemployment.

"This decline in the size of the labor force is partially responsible for the sharp decline in unemployment rates that have occurred since April," Brand wrote. "Many discouraged workers may have given up searching for jobs, thus they have exited the labor force."

Have you or someone you know left the labor force and want to chat with a reporter about it? Let me know.

Business confidence shaky

And now for the bad and not-so-surprising news: Businesses are nervous about what the next six months of COVID-19 will bring.

Again at the Regional Economic Indicators Forum, College of St. Scholastica student researchers Krista Heller and Nicholas Anderson surveyed 74 businesses and found 34% were confident business would improve over the next six months while 25% expect it will worsen. In March, those numbers were 51% and 12%, respectively.

And 36% of businesses think profits will worsen over the next half year.

"According to local businesses, COVID-19 is the single biggest factor limiting business growth, followed by lack of demand, and shortage of qualified labor," the duo wrote.

Tourism industry updates

The pandemic hit restaurants, hotels and other tourism industry businesses hard, so Visit Duluth will be making weekly videos "detailing work happening behind-the-scenes, marketing campaign components, legislative and funding updates, and more."

“Visit Duluth recognizes the tourism industry is hurting and stretched thin,” Visit Duluth President and CEO Anna Tanski said in a news release last week. “We hope these brief videos provide relevant information our industry needs while being cognizant that many hotels, restaurants, shops, attractions, and other tourism businesses are short-staffed and busy adapting their operations.”

The first two videos can be found here.

With COVID-19 cases spiking and a fresh round of restrictions on bars, restaurants and gatherings, we'll see where things go and if a bump in business from Bentleyville helps.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy and mining for the Duluth News Tribune. Contact him at 218-723-5332 or jlovrien@duluthnews.com.