Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Winter pushes jobless rate higher in northern Lower Peninsula

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By ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service

LANSING – As temperatures fall across northern Michigan, the unemployment rate is rising.

Many workers who rely on seasonal jobs in the tourism industry are finding themselves out of work as winter months arrive.

Angie Ross, business liaison for the Northwest Michigan Works! Petoskey office, said the agency tends to be busier during winter.

“There are a larger number of people in November, December and January coming in because there are fewer jobs available,” she said.

For example, someone may work during the summer at a golf course but in the winter months work at a ski resort.

Ross also said many people do multiple jobs in different seasons.

“It’s not uncommon to see people work two or three seasonal jobs and work different jobs in different seasons,” she said.

Carlin Smith, president of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce, said winter is particularly difficult because summer residents are gone.

“There are a lot of people who have summer homes and live here all summer,” he said. “They live, eat and shop here, so in the winter there is less of a need for grocers, restaurant workers and other positions. A lot of people have to take unemployment or will do odd jobs like plowing snow and hauling wood.”

Fluctuations in unemployment rates are common in many of the state’s northern counties.

Throughout the summer, Emmet, Charlevoix and Cheboygan counties saw steady declines in their jobless rates, compared to sharp increases in unemployment last winter.

In September, however, Emmet County’s unemployment rate increased from 11.6 to 12.2 percent. Charlevoix County’s rate also increased from 13 percent to 13.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of unemployed in Cheboygan County dropped from 8.7 percent to 8.6 percent in September, the smallest decrease the county has seen since March.

Smith said he wants to see more advertising for winter tourism in the area.

“While there is certainly a higher volume of people coming in the summer, we should do more to promote winter tourism,” he said. “People can travel easier today than in years past, and I think we have a lot to offer to winter travelers.”

Kirsten Borgstrom, media relations manager for Travel Michigan, said the Pure Michigan campaign has been advertising winter activities since last year. Travel Michigan is the state’s official tourism promotion agency.

“The ads cover things like snowmobile riding, skiing and all of the things people can do during the wintertime,” she said. “We’re trying to bring people to the state who would like to have an affordable winter getaway, which would increase the number of visitors and create more jobs.”

But Pure Michigan needs additional state money, Borgstrom said, so it will discontinue winter ads, at least temporarily.

“Unfortunately that aspect of the campaign will be going dark for now because we don’t have the funding for it,” she said. “If we receive our additional funding we’ll be ready to go for a January and February winter campaign.”

Smith said he remains optimistic about the region’s ability to increase the number of winter visitors.

“While I don’t think we’ll ever get to our summer levels, there is definitely room to expand our winter volume and perhaps keep more people working,” he said.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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