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Erickson column: Behind the reporting

Andee Erickson

Hi, readers. Since quite a bit of space in this week's paper is dedicated to a story a bit different than the usual content, we wanted to let you all in on the process behind that reporting.

Hopefully, the story "Regional interdependence: Hospital labor force crossing county lines" shares something new with you about the local workforce of an industry that employs more Carlton County residents than any other. Many of those hospital jobs are in Carlton County, and many of those jobs are not.

I came about this story in a roundabout way. When I first started reporting for Carlton County in November, I browsed whatever data I could find to help answer a few generic questions I believed were fundamental to better understanding the county. Where do people work and in what industries; in which age cohorts is the population growing, and shrinking; and who was moving into the county and why when the population went through that growth period between 2000 and 2011?

Eventually, I discovered an invaluable tool from the U.S. Census Bureau called On The Map. It's an online mapping application that allows users to perform geographic analysis on where people work and live. The data I gathered there aided my researching and reporting tremendously. It's how I was first able to put a number to just how many Carlton County residents commute into St. Louis County for work, and vice versa — a number we know to be substantial. But just how substantial, I wasn't sure.

I knew that over a quarter of working Carlton County residents commuted to St. Louis County, and I wanted to hear from them. Even though it might not seem like much, commiting to an hour-long round-trip commute each day, give or take some time, adds up. It's a sacrifice of sorts, and behind most sacrifices there's usually a story that reveals a little bit more about the people and forces that make up a place.

So my colleague Jamey Malcomb, whose byline I'm confident you've seen, suggested I reach out to the hospitals in Duluth to get in touch with those Carlton County commuters I wanted to talk to. I quickly learned the number of Carlton County residents those hospitals employed was no finite number, and thus became the beginning of a story that explored the interdepence of the hospital labor force between two closely tied counties.

This statistical understanding left me wondering, what does that mean for the Carlton County, what does that mean in terms of health care competition in the region? It's no surprise that the closer I looked and the more personal stories and expert explanations I listened to, the more layered the picture became. At the same time a common thread was emerging — a cherished interest in a place.

Whether it was for a school, a sense of community, the woods, an appreciation for the quiet or the family's best interest, people have decided it's worth going the extra mile to be able to return home to a place that feels right.

Andee Erickson

Andee Erickson has been a reporter with the Pine Journal since November 2018. She studied journalism and geography at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, while working at the Leader-Telegram newspaper on weekends. She graduated in 2018. Erickson's from southern Minnesota, but started viewing the north as home after interning for the Duluth News Tribune in the summer of 2017. 

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