Dean Logering has had a lot more time for household projects as he continues to look for work after losing his job at Potlatch last spring.
Logering spent 27 years at Potlatch. He worked in the coating department, was a tour guide and ran the United Way campaign drive. Since his job ended last May, Logering has spent time scouring want ads, attending classes at the WorkForce Center in Brainerd, painting rooms in his Merrifield home and signing up for a nine-month welding and fabricating course at Central Lakes College.
"Brainerd needs good jobs like Potlatch and I think when you have good wages you have good benefits and that helps the community," Logering said. "The more money the employees make, the more we spend."
Potlatch did a lot for Brainerd, Logering said. And he noted the effects of the closing are just reaching some people. Logering just received his second unemployment check.
Logering, a former Potlatch employee, has been looking for work, going to classes and working on home projects since his job ended at the paper mill. He said he hopes new economic development efforts attract larger employers to the community.
"The hurt is yet to come," he said.
The 47-year-old said when he started looking for work he expected job offers to be $5 to $6 per hour less than he made at Potlatch, but not $12 an hour less.
His wife, Toni, recently took a job so they would have medical insurance coverage.
The Logerings have three teen-age children they would like to see more job opportunities in the area for as well. Logering said a large employer who can pay decent wages and offer benefits is also paying higher taxes and contributing to the community.
Displaced Potlatch workers are expected to gain from a $50,000 short-term planning grant from the Economic Development Administration. The $50,000 EDA grant is matched by pledges of $52,500 from Potlatch, the Initiative Foundation, Minnesota Power, the Brainerd School District, Crow Wing County and the cities of Brainerd and Baxter. The short-term planning project is designed to come up with a comprehensive economic development strategy in the face of the Potlatch mill closing.
"It's really a giant puzzle we are trying to put together," said Lisa Paxton, Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce CEO.
The puzzle consists of identifying existing resources, looking at industry trends and targeting specific industries that may want to have a business start-up in the lakes area or at efforts to expand an existing company. On the asset side, the lakes area can list quality of life, an available labor force, and education and training abilities.
The goal is to find new job opportunities using a three-step approach -- visioning to establish employment needs for the future, labor force research and then marketing, where the majority of dollars is advocated. Included in the target is attracting jobs with higher than average paying positions and identify target companies that may fill niches here.
The first step, now that the planning grant is secured, is to hire a consultant to work with the community strategy team. The efforts should benefit dislocated Potlatch workers, as well as others who have felt the effect of the slow economy, said Sheila Wasnie Haverkamp, Brainerd Lakes Area Development Corp. executive director.
"I think this is coming at a good time," Haverkamp said, noting the many comprehensive plan updates going on in area communities. "It just seems key right now."
Haverkamp said the planning grant is one way to access other federal programs and funding that will help implement the ideas and strategies developed now. The consultant will work to estimate future job number, wages and how the wages can contribute to the community. The vision process, expected to last the first six months in the overall 18-month project, should provide a road map of how to recruit target companies.
"It could be totally different than what we expect," said Gail Leverson, Region 5 economic development director.
Jobs that can pay above minimum wage and include benefits are being sought. Generally a livable wage is considered to be in the $10 to $12 to $14 per hour range.
Tim Finch, a former Potlatch worker, recently received a job offer from Missota Paper. Finch said when Potlatch closed the area probably lost one of the last good paying factory jobs where people could earn middle-income wages. In regard to the EDA planning grant, Finch suggested planners need to target a name employer.
"I'd be very pleased to see more industry come into Brainerd," Finch said.
Craig Nathan, WorkForce Center in Brainerd, said they were able to sign and approve 62 on-the-job training contracts with Missota Paper Co. accessing dislocated worker grant dollars and those efforts will continue.
Before the end of the month final interviews are expected to fill the visioning consulting position the EDA grant and area matches are helping to fund. The visioning consultant will be paid $30,000 with $5,000 available for travel, supplies and others, per authorized budget. The job was posted February 26 and Request for Proposal replies are due March 19. One interested call came from Oregon. Interviews will be set March 27.
The consultant is expected to provide an overall look and assessment of existing resources in the lakes area, identify economic development assets, needs and future trends, develop a strategic plan through community meetings, identify lakes area labor force skills and market the area to new businesses or assist existing businesses expand future job opportunities.
Logering said the WorkForce Center in Brainerd, with classes on stress, budgeting and insurance, has been a help for displaced workers, but individuals also have to be willing to help themselves.
With hundreds of people all looking for work, Logering said: "They can't say here's a job for Dean, here's a job for Sue -- you can't do that."
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