Sebeka among Minnesota towns where jobs are in short supply

SEBEKA, Minn. (AP) — As employers in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and many nonmetro communities scramble to find workers, in some parts of the state it is jobs — not workers — that are in short supply.
The north-central Minnesota town of Sebeka is among those that have watched jobs and population shift to other parts of the state.
In February, the unemployment rate in Wadena County, where Sebeka is located, was 6.7 percent, triple the jobless rate in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The 488 unemployed in Wadena County in January represented one person looking for work for every 12 employed. Statewide, for every person hunting for a job that month, 28 people had jobs. In Hennepin County, the ratio of unemployed to employed was one to 49.
The lack of jobs isn’t the only problem for workers in Sebeka, a town of 662.
“Those who do have jobs are underemployed,” said Bill Hodgden, Sebeka mayor. Hodgden drives a school bus, rents out storage sheds and takes an occasional landscaping job to supplement the income from his 14-room motel.
The Minnesota Planning Department said in recent reports that more than a score of rural counties across the state have enjoyed a turnaround in population and jobs in the 1990s. But the forces that have led to the success stories are not found in Wadena County and some other Minnesota counties.
In 1997, Wadena County’s unemployment rate averaged 5.9 percent, while the statewide average was just 3.3 percent.
Sebeka officials hope labor market has become so hot in other parts of the state that towns like theirs will catch the attention of employers looking to relocate.
Last month, the town hailed the news that Diamond Tool Inc. will move in August from Hanover, a 45-minute drive from the Twin Cities, to Sebeka, three hours north. Diamond’s president, Ardell Paulson, said he was amazed to receive 60 job applications after a local newspaper announced the relocation. He plans to hire only 15 or 20 people at first, and more as the company grows.
“I’ve been flooded with applicants,” he said. “And we haven’t advertised!”
In Hanover, Diamond typically gets about 10 applications in response to an employment advertisement and nine would be unqualified, Paulson said.
In contrast, every applicant he’s interviewed from the Sebeka area would be equipped for some job at the plant, Paulson said.
West Central Telephone, based in Sebeka, recently screened 100 applicants for two customer service jobs paying $7.50 to $13 an hour.
“There’s a big work force in this area that’s virtually untapped,” said Anthony V. Mayer, West Central’s general manager.
Sebeka and communities like it have many young people who say they would like to stay in the town, if only they could find work with the pay and benefits to sustain them.