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Havre's economy absorbs Herberger's, Sears and Kmart closures


Last updated 3/4/2019 at 11:59am

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Carol Lamey, right, speaks to members of the Pachyderm Club during a lunchtime meeting Friday at the Duck Inn in Havre.

Havre Job Service Manager Carol Lamey said Friday that even though several businesses closed in 2018, such as the Herberger's, Sears and Kmart, there was no drastic spike in unemployment.

Lamey addressed the North Central Pachyderm Club during its monthly meeting at the Duck Inn Vineyard Room.

She said the impact of the closures was handled by the local economy.

"That worked out really well," she said.

She said that, according to the numbers calculated by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, December of 2018 Hill County had a 3.6 percent unemployment rate. She added that Liberty County had 2.7 percent, Blaine had 4.5 percent, Chouteau had 3.4 percent, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation had 10.2 percent and Rocky Boy's had 11.9 percent.

"What that means is that everyone that is looking for a job has a job, so we are really close to that right now," she said.

Lamey said the Indian reservations calculate their unemployment differently on the reservations from the state and federal government, although the number they have from DOL calculates it the same way.

Unemployment in Hill County fluctuated throughout the year between 3.4 and 3.7 percent, she said, with Job Service not seeing any drastic change during the business closures.

She said the reason they didn't observe any drastic change was due to these employees being absorbed into the economy. Once the employees heard their companies were going to close, she said, they began searching for jobs ahead of the closure.

Many of the former employees of these businesses have also found jobs outside of retail, she said. She added that she notices that these employees, who have been working for years in the retail industry, have taken the opportunity to change their career paths.

She has noticed, she said, that out of the employees from Herberger's, Kmart and Sears, many people who were generally working low-paying jobs have found employment with companies that are paying higher wages.

Some of the employees of Kmart retired, she said, but Herberger's employees did not have a retirement plan set up within the company so many of them had to find jobs.

Lamey said Job Service offers programs to help retrain employees as well as help them purchase uniforms or work clothes. She said they had four former Kmart and two former Herberger's employees enroll in these programs. The former Herberger's employees also are receiving assistance to finish their college degrees, she said.

She said that, in her opinion, this is a sign that employees in general are becoming more savvy within the job market. Some employers or people complain that this generation of workers have no loyalty to the businesses they work for, she said, but this is not the case.

"We see that more and more now is it's just a different culture, you know, since 20, 30 years ago," Lamey said.

In this generation, she said, people have seen friends and families work for companies or business for years and then one day lose their jobs for no reason at all.

With companies within the past 20 to 30 years closing or having large lay off periods, the employees have become aware that jobs are not always stable, she said.

"We've always encouraged employers to check references for their potential employees, their applicants," she said. "I think that applicants are doing a better job at kinda scouting out, you know, which would be the best employers to work for and it's that market, it's their market, they get to pick right now."

She said employees have become more selective in the jobs they are applying for and want something that they will be able to live with.

What they are also seeing, Lamey said, is employers stealing employees from other employers, companies marketing themselves better to possible employees in order to recruit more people.

Job Service can advertise many types of jobs, from positions requiring high education and highly qualified employees to entry level positions, she said. Even with the minimum wage being raised to $8.50 an hour, she said, most of the jobs advertised at Job Service are anywhere between $10 to $11 an hour so companies can stay competitive. Lamey added that Job Service also tells employers to list the wage of the job on their advertisements because when people see a job without any wage listed, they often pass it without consideration.

She said that they also advise businesses to advertise benefits of the job, even if it is just a free meal. She said any benefit makes a large difference to people who are seeking employment.

"It's so difficult to recruit people and ... you've got to cover all of your basis," she said.

Lamey added that they are also advising businesses to watch their reputations - lay off or a high turnover in employees - because that can directly affect the desirability of the position.

"This is an applicant market right now, and I don't see it changing," she said. "Well, nobody sees it changing, the numbers just aren't there. ... 'It's going to get worse, it's going to get harder for employers. The employers willing to change will do better."

She said because everything is so accessible currently, with advancements in technology, anyone can easily find employment within or outside of the state or country.

The job service usually has approximately 180 jobs open at any given time within Blaine, Hill, Liberty and Phillips counties and part of Chouteau County, she said.

She added that this is a large territory and Havre Job Service recently acquiring Phillips County for its coverage.  

Several offices were closed over the past year, she said, including the loss of the Glasgow office.

She added Havre Job Service Center will be holding a youth job fair at Havre High School this year on April 16. She said there are no plans to have a youth job fair in Chester or Chinook at this time.

The job fair will prepare kids for entering the workforce with a lunch prep class before the job fair begins, she said, adding that hopefully this job fair will fill employers' needs for the summer or part-time work during the school year.

She added that the Havre Job Service Center also recently paid off its building. She said with the closures of other offices across the state, the center owning its own building will help ensure that Havre will have a job service center for years to come.

"We are excited that building is paid for," she said. "That was quite an undertaking that (former director Pam Harada) worked extremely hard to get that building built."


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