Layoffs have, unfortunately, become recurring news in the lakes area along with the rest of the nation.
The county's unemployment rate jumping to 12.3 percent in January, reaching double digits for the first time in 15 years, means 4,027 people are out of the work force in Crow Wing County alone.
Some businesses, including those in the printing industry here, are so reluctant to talk about it they won't return calls. Others at least offer a "no comment." And then, thankfully, there are the ones who are willing to be up front about the news so the community knows just what is happening in its midst.
Lexington Manufacturing in Brainerd recently laid off 12 workers. Brainerd Lakes Health made the decision to eliminate its internal medical transcriptionist department, affecting 12 workers with 10 of those losing their jobs with BMC.
At Lexington, General Manager Mike Dillon said the layoffs amount to about 20 percent of the plant's current work force. Lexington now employs 51 people in Brainerd.
Dillon said the plant has had smaller reductions during the last 18 months, but this recent layoff was the most significant. Lexington's markets in residential and commercial construction have been hit by the recession and the outlook - at least in the foreseeable future - doesn't look promising. Dillon said looking at estimates for the market this year, the company had to take action now to reduce its work force.
"We certainly did not provide an expected return date because there is nothing predictable in the environment right now," Dillon said. "They are certainly good people. We are going to miss them."
"It's definitely uncharted territory," Dillon said of the current economy and he said nothing going on now is providing anything warm and fuzzy about the future, making it hard to feel confident. Talking about layoffs isn't something the company wants to do. But Dillon said Lexington does value its place in the community and feels fortunate to have the flexible and hardworking staff it does. Those workers are now taking on new challenges and taking up work they haven't done in the past.
"That is the strength that will keep us going," Dillon said, adding that dedication is what is going to get the company through this period. "We've got a lot of good people and that's what it requires. We're committed to the long term in Brainerd and we want to make it work."
The economic downturn is affecting Brainerd Lakes Health - Brainerd Medical Center and St. Joseph's Medical Center - as people delay medical treatment because of lost jobs or those, facing high deductibles, postpone visits.
"We are experiencing lower volumes than what we are used to," said Dale Benson, Brainerd Lakes Health vice president, noting that development created a need to look at how the medical facilities are delivering services.
Both BMC and St. Joe's do less medical transcribing, Benson said. With the current market and an industry trend to outsource transcription services, Benson said a decision was made to go to that model here while providing a way to keep the jobs in the community.
BMC picked a Baxter firm Techni Scribe, which will offer to hire the affected BMC employees. Twelve people were affected by the layoffs, which were announced to staff Monday. Two of those workers will move to other jobs at BMC. Ten others will have the option of working with Techni Scribe.
Benson said Brainerd Lakes Health specifically picked an area firm so affected workers would have an opportunity here. The medical transcriptionists are still working at BMC and will have a transition period through March 16 to give employees time to prepare for the change.
The medical transcriptionists are the largest group the medical facilities have laid off. The affected employees ranged from working at the medical facility for a couple of years to about 30 years. Benson said some employees may have anticipated the change while others were undoubtedly surprised. "A variety of emotions," he said.
BMC and St. Joe's are looking at other areas of savings, but Benson said no other staffing decisions have been made at this point. Brainerd Lakes Health employs 1,250 to 1,275 people here.
"We are trying to adjust to the downturn, but retain as many employees as we can," Benson said.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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