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January unemployment rate is high, but so is job outlook

Mar. 23, 2013
 
Shirrell Austin and her son, 4-year-old Samuel Gebhardt, wave goodbye to Sammy's father, William Gebhardt, on board the Paul R. Tregurtha as it glides between the Michigan and Maple-Oregon bridges in Sturgeon Bay at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Tregurtha is one of the ships maintained over the winter at Bay Shipbuilding Co./Fincantieri, Door County's largest employer.
Shirrell Austin and her son, 4-year-old Samuel Gebhardt, wave goodbye to Sammy's father, William Gebhardt, on board the Paul R. Tregurtha as it glides between the Michigan and Maple-Oregon bridges in Sturgeon Bay at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Tregurtha is one of the ships maintained over the winter at Bay Shipbuilding Co./Fincantieri, Door County's largest employer. / Ramelle Bintz/Door County Advocate

Door County’s 15 Largest Employers

EmployerType of BusinessNumber of Employees
Bay ShipbuildingShip Repair & Construction662
Ministry Door County Medical CenterHealth Care522
County of DoorCounty Government329
Hatco Corp.Commercial Kitchen Equipment304
School District of Sturgeon BayElementary & Secondary Schools195
NEW IndustriesCustom Machining185
Southern Door Public SchoolElementary & Secondary Schools179
Baylake BankCommercial Banking163
Marine Travelift/ExecTechBoat & Industrial Hoists155
Econo FoodsGrocery150
Palmer Johnson YachtsLuxury Boat Building133
Therma-Tron-XIndustrial Finishing Systems124
Door County YMCACivic & Social Organization115
WireTech FabricatorsWire Products113
Pick ‘n SaveGrocery85
Source: Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development/DCEDC

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Door County came in fourth in the state in January in a contest in which no Wisconsin county wants to be first: unemployment rankings.

The 13.4 percent rate for January is high, compared to 8 percent overall in Wisconsin. But Door County’s figure is a result of the county’s reliance on seasonal, mostly tourism employment, said Jeffrey Sachse, regional economist for Northeastern Wisconsin who works for the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD). The DWD issued its monthly jobs report Wednesday.

All of Wisconsin’s 72 counties had increases in the unemployment rate between December and January, including Door County, where the rate rose 3 percent. Only 11 counties had a rate decrease compared to January of last year, and Door County was among those, squeaking in 0.5 percentage points lower than last January’s rate. One factor may be that there has been no need for layoffs so far this winter at Door County’s largest employer, Bay Shipbuilding Co./Fincantieri.

“The county’s unemployment is subject to a great deal of seasonal fluctuation that is not accounted for in these monthly estimates, with January and February typically being the months with the highest unemployment rates throughout the year,” Sachse said. “Looking more closely at these figures, we see that the county’s labor force contracted by an estimated 243 persons, and 672 fewer persons were employed than in December. This can be accounted for by slowdowns in construction, retail, and leisure and hospitality employment throughout the region.”

The dynamics of Door County are similar to that of Vilas and Oneida counties, where fishing and boating are popular in the Eagle River and Minocqua areas, he said. Similarly high winter rates are seen in Bayfield County on Lake Superior with Apostle Island tourism. Bayfield came in second at 14.2 percent. Adams County, which contains Wisconsin Dells, also ranked high with a 12.8 percent rate. Door County’s rate typically drops below 5 percent in the summer.

“This time of year we’re in two camps,” said Bill Chaudoir, executive director of Door County Economic Development Corp. “For the tourism economy, this is the slow period in January and February. In manufacturing, the businesses I’m talking to are very encouraged by the new year. There’s a lot of optimism out there.”

Seasonal employers are hiring

Unemployment figures are released more than a month after claims are accumulated ,so statistics lag behind current conditions. In Door County, employers are already gearing up for spring and summer.

Door Peninsula Winery in Carlsville is holding its own job fair Wednesday with plans to add 20 employees. Winery and distillery retail buyer M.J. Gustafson said the company is hiring now for May with most jobs wrapping up in October.

But some year-round positions will start in April. Gustafson will be looking for people not only for the distillery but also for Fat Louie’s Olive Oil Co. in Egg Harbor, the Barrel Room and The Cherry Hut in Fish Creek and Bistro 42 in Carlsville.

Besides restaurant and hotel “help wanted” signs springing up this time of year, nursery and landscape operators are adding staff. Cliff Orsted, owner of Door Landscape and Nursery in Egg Harbor, is readying his crew for formal orientation sessions Monday. Orsted prepared binders with explanations of expectations and rules this week. And new hires will have an orientation and safety class on the use of power equipment, such as chain saws.

Orsted’s business has grown so much since 2009, he is adding a 4,000-square-foot building for equipment. A snow removal service complements the groundskeeping services of warmer seasons. He started with only six employees, but will have 17 this year.

“A lot of people think of the landscape season being only five or six months,” he said. “This is an eight-month or longer season.”

As long as the ground isn’t frozen, work continues, he said, with one in-ground installation going until Dec. 7 last year. Last spring the weather was so warm his employees were back at work on March 21. This year, he’s hoping to begin the second week of April.

“We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature, which reflects the hospitality industry,” he said.

When Mother Nature throws a curve, as happened during a mild winter last year, some of his employees, like many others in Door County, filed for unemployment.

Manufacturers stabilize economy

A mix of manufacturing, government, health care and education makes up a core of other industries providing full-time permanent employment. While some of those industries are affected by seasonal fluctuations, they provide a base for the local economy.

Most non-metro counties rely on health-care facilities and school districts for their base, according to the DWD. But Door County has a larger than usual number of manufacturers. Of the 15 largest employers in the county, seven are manufacturers.

“It’s a totally different economy now from 2012,” Chaudoir said. “All that ruckus from the political forums is over. There is a lot more optimism. Our own business incubator has three new tenants.”

Although startups are important, he said equally if not more important is continued growth of companies already here, both the big ones and the small. Hatco, NEW Industries and WireTech in the Sturgeon Bay Industrial Park have undergone expansions and more growth is on the way, Chaudoir said.

In addition, health-care facilities such as Scandia Village in Sister Bay and Anna’s Healthcare in Sturgeon Bay are employing more people. He is hearing the positive growth refrain all over the county, from last year’s expansion of Renard’s Cheese in Southern Door to small businesses on Washington Island. Another example are recent expansions of hardware stores in both Egg Harbor and Sturgeon Bay.

“Small business growth like the Renard’s Cheese retail outlet is significant,” he said. “The beauty of that is the demand for cheese increases the demand for milk. It all trickles down.”

Contact Ramelle Bintz at rbintz@doorcountyadvocate.com.

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