RAEDI leader optimistic about local economy

By Jeff Kiger

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

While many of the numbers -- building permits, home sales, even airport traffic -- are down in the latest Rochester economic report, the area’s employment numbers remain strong.

In the past 12 months, the Rochester area added 349 jobs, and it has added 1,844 jobs since 2006.

However, employment from the second quarter to the third quarter showed a decline of 1,582 jobs.


Gary Smith, president of Rochester Area Economic Development Inc., said that drop was an expected annual slowdown.

He points out job gains in the service area, which includes health, education, government, business and professional services.

"Over the last year, there’s 1,400 more people working in the service area in the Rochester-area economy. That’s the good news. … Where else do you see that kind of growth?" Smith asked.

While he remains optimistic, he said he realizes that many businesses are feeling the economic "crunch," as a recent spate of layoffs shows.

"I’m not trying to be Pollyannish. But when you have more than 100,000 people, in the big picture, 100, 200 jobs cut is not that much," Smith said. "Of course, if you are one of those workers, it is huge."

Layoffs, a 10 percent drop in homes sales and other bad news should be looked at through the lens of how the nation’s economic downturn is affecting other communities.

"The facts are the facts, and relatively speaking, our economy is doing much better than the state or the country," he said.

While the state and national unemployment rates are 5.7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, Rochester has a rate of 4.7 percent.


Employment and population are key to Smith’s hopeful view of the future.

"You need job growth and population growth to drive overall economic growth. The silver lining is that we have that," he said. "If that continues, simple logic is that demand for things likes houses and cars will increase."

While service jobs are up for the past 12 months, manufacturing and contruction jobs are — not surprisingly — down 1,051 for that period and down 336 for the third quarter.

That shows a contination of a local shift from making goods to providing services, Smith said. While services have also been stronger in the medical community, that gap is increasing.

Other statistics in the economic organization’s quarterly report included drops in the financial value of new construction, a continued decline in home sales and a 12 percent drop in traffic at the Rochester International Airport.

Smith, however, sees a local economy that continues to attact the attention of businesses, both large and small.

"We’re (RAEDI) seeing an increase in activity, of people asking for information about Rochester, of people kicking the tires," he said.

"Tommorrow, something could happen and that could all change. That’s just the absurdity of the world we now live in," he said. "But we remain optimistic about where we’re going as an economy."

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