There are many ways to slice and dice employment and the change in employment in a community. How webs to do it, and whether the approach generates meaningful outcomes, is not always clear. We can look at particular sectors and attribute outsize importance to them and fear job loss is symptomatic of a declining employment base. It could also be the case the local labor market composition changed and the losses in one sector were the gain in another.
In order to make sure I get a sense of the collective picture I like to start with broad categories at the outset. The small story can be vitally important, but again, I do not want to fixate on that too much until I know more about the overarching experience. The Herald story about construction employment loss (7 February 2018) is an example of why I like to start broader.
I use the BLS State and Area Employment series to look at two broad employment categories: goods producing and service producing. Right away two things stand out from this graph. First, the relative stability of the two series is pretty notable. That is, Grand Forks employment composition has not changed much over the last ten years according to this graph. For those living here that is not really a surprise to be honest. However it also speaks to an issue we may need to confront. More on that in a moment.
The second point to raise is that the mix of employment types strongly favors services. Grand Forks metro area employment does not really focus on goods production. This should make us wonder about the employment diversification in our local economy. I am not thinking of diversification in a risk reducing capacity as you might your stock portfolio. That is certainly something we could consider, but was not my focus right now. I am wondering if this mixture generates optimal economic growth, at least subject to the level of risk we might be taking on in the local economy.
You would want more information about the the composition of each of these two categories before making any final judgements. It is certainly the case that service producing jobs can be quite distinct and therefore provides some diversification.
It is also worth noting the mostly flat trend to the data series. There is some seasonal variation in the data series but they seem to bounce around stable values, especially the goods producing series. The service sector sees some upward drift towards the end of the time period, making a deeper dive more relevant for that series.
Keeping this at the larger view though we have some questions to answer. The last ten years seemingly did little to either A) increase employment overall in Grand Forks, and B) alter the composition of that employment. This was not a policy desert; there were ideas and programs out forward. The question is whether they worked or not. If they did, they kept us from a much worse outcome in local labor markets than most envisioned.