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Students release regional economic report

A long-term study of the area's economic indicators was released Dec. 20. The Regional Economic Indicators Forum (REIF) focuses on the economic performance of a 15-county region that includes Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin.

As part of this forum, the College of St. Scholastica, University of Minnesota-Duluth and University of Wisconsin-Superior collect and monitor data. Findings were presented at the sixth bi-annual REIF breakfast at the DECC Nov. 1. The updated results were released in a 93-page report in December. The updated report is available here.

"While there are definitely bright spots in the regional economy, as shown by the falling unemployment rate, job growth in various sectors, and an increase in building permits, overall the regional economy seems to be experiencing slow to moderate growth," the report states. The region "tends to lag behind the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin."

Over the past five years (October 2011 to October 2016) the region's labor force declined by more than 3 percent. "This represents a loss of the region's most valuable resource: its workers," the report said. "The decline is likely the result of baby boomers coming into retirement age, as roughly 20 percent of the REIF's population is 65 years or older."

The five-year employment change has been relatively stable, growing by 2.8 percent overall. The accommodation and food services industry added the most jobs, more than 2,400. Arts, entertainment and recreation lost the most at almost 2,000.

"A positive employment growth rate indicates that the region is efficiently employing its shrinking labor force. Still, maintaining positive employment growth in the coming years will prove more difficult if the labor market continues to decline," the report said.

In some areas the region does better than the rest of Minnesota, Wisconsin and the nation, such as the rate of homeownership. But the poverty rate is higher, and median household income and educational levels are lower in the region, compared with the two states and the country.

Another bright spot is the growth in the region's construction industry, which added more than 1,500 jobs between 2011 and 2015. Also, the number of new building permits was up in nearly every county between 2014 and 2015, "signaling that confidence has increased since the Great Recession," the report said.

The forum is sponsored by the National Bank of Commerce. Participating sponsors are NE MN Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and UW-Superior Small Business Development Center, the Development Association of Superior-Douglas County, APEX, BusinessNorth and the Development Association.