Employment in the Twin Ports is up 5% from last August, according to a report released Thursday from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The Twin Ports metro area saw the highest rate of annual job growth in the state.

Duluth-Superior added more than 6,000 jobs in the last 12 months, according to DEED. Elena Foshay, director of Duluth’s workforce development, said there has been growth in all sectors, but the hospitality industry saw the biggest increase because of jobs lost at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also notable gains in manufacturing, health care and local government jobs, she said.

Foshay credits some of the rise in employment to in-person learning at area schools. Parents who needed to stay home with children during distance learning can now work full-time again.

“Everyone wants to think that the unemployment insurance benefits were keeping people out of the labor force and now that they’ve ended, it means everyone’s rushing back to work,” Foshay said. “I don’t think that’s actually what is happening.”

Many federal unemployment benefits, including the $300 weekly bonus checks and unemployment insurance assistance, ended earlier this month.

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Statewide, average hourly wages for private sector workers rose $1, or 3.2%, over the year and $2.42, or 8%, since August 2019. Foshay said because of the labor shortage, which began before the pandemic and was heightened by it, many employers in the area have offered higher wages, increased benefits and extra flexibility to attract workers.

Spherion Staffing and Recruiting, which has an office in Duluth, led a national sweepstakes that gave employees working for Spherion during the summer a chance to win prizes including laptops, Apple Watches, TVs or even a car. One Duluth employee won a pair of Beats headphones, as well as a promotion from a temporary position to a permanent job in the Duluth market.

“It’s been a tough recruiting market, and we wanted to give people another reason to work with us instead of our competitors,” said Ann Miller, president and chief executive officer of the Minnesota franchise.

Miller said that while the incentive didn’t cause a huge surge in recruitment, they did see an increase in placement numbers in August and early September, as well as increased visibility among clients who used them for recruiting. Nationally, the hiring firm placed almost 15,000 people into jobs during the sweepstakes. Locally, those placements included professional, clerical, manufacturing and call center positions.

Unemployment in St. Louis County is at 3.7%, according to DEED, and 3.5% in Carlton County. The city of Duluth has an unemployment rate of 3.3%, while Cloquet’s is 3.8%. Hibbing has an unemployment rate of 5.5%, one of the highest rates of the state’s cities.

The Twin Ports region has regained about 70% of the jobs lost during the pandemic, Foshay said. According to DEED data, about 1,800 people in Duluth have left the workforce since last year.

“That is a number that has an impact,” Foshay said. “You can see all around town, employers are hiring and having a hard time finding workers, so they’re definitely feeling the shrinking of the labor force.”

Foshay credits some of those labor force losses to people near or at retirement age before the pandemic. She said other people are taking this time to reevaluate their career paths, and are now trying jobs in new fields. Foshay also said local participation in CareerForce job counseling and workshops has increased.

“Now is a good time to look for jobs because it’s a competitive market,” she said. “I think folks want to work. They want to go back to work, it’s just whether what’s available meets their expectations or meets their needs.”

According to DEED, the occupation in highest demand in Northeastern Minnesota is retail salespersons, followed by registered nurses and home health and personal care aides.