Brookings doing well amidst recession

Jamison Lamp

Jamison Lamp

Lately, the woes of the national recession have been reverberating through all parts of the country, but according to local officials, Brookings has managed to remain somewhat isolated from the tragic effects.

“Brookings has been able to live within its means,” Brookings City Manager Jeffery Weldon said. “We are planning on continuing as normal.”

“So far we have been extremely fortunate,” Al Heuton, executive director of the Brookings Economic Development Corporation said. “We haven’t had the large layoffs; our variety of industry isolates us somewhat and helps us remain strong.”

Area manufacturers offer a wider range of services, like digital displays at Daktronics to storm doors at Larson Manufacturing.

Heuton attributes the manufacturing success to the favorable tax climate.

It is thanks to the diversity of the job market that Brookings retains an unemployment rate of 2.1 percent, one of the lowest in the state. The nation’s unemployment rate is 7.2 percent, while South Dakota’s comes in lower at 3.4 percent.

“Brookings has a strong business base,” said Jeff Kjenstad, manager of the Department of Labor, Brookings field office. “The broad spread of business helps keep the unemployment rate low.”

There are currently 645 open full and part-time jobs in the Brookings area.

“Comparatively, January and February are a little down, but it is still a very strong job market,” Kjenstad said. “Manufacturers are still hiring and we still have quite a few retailers hiring.”

“The good news is there was a cushion with those jobs,” Weldon said of a slight decrease in available jobs.

“Spring brings more jobs to the listings,” Kjenstad said.

Seasonal jobs, like construction work, seasonal retail positions and groundskeepers will become available shortly.

“The largest noticeable difference has been in the labor force,” Heuton said. “We still have industries hiring, but some are being cautious.”

“I really haven’t seen any differences in the market,” said local real estate agent Barb Murra. “I don’t think we have felt the pinch.”

Murra said that this time of year is typically slow for realtors as no one likes to move in the cold and bad weather.

“There is lots of new construction being worked on in many new developments,” Murra said. “It’s a wonderful time to buy a house.”

Interest rates have continued to stay low with a 15-year loan being financed at about 5 percent. “It’s phenomenal when you can get anything in the five or six range,” Murra said.

As for rentals, Murra said that single-family houses remain hard to find, but apartments are more readily available due to shorter lease times.

“You can usually find apartments,” Murra said. “Many people will stay in apartments to get a better feel for the town and what part of the community is right for them.”

With housing and industry stabilized, retailers have seen similar effects.

“We saw a steady holiday season,” said Steve Kirkey, owner of Fergen’s Clothing and Shoes in Brookings. “We even saw a slight increase in sales.”

Kirkey attributed the increase to numerous circumstances.

“It could be a mix of new merchandise, new location and better parking,” Kirkey said.

The record low temperatures may have led to the need for more outerwear as well, he said.

With the positive stance now, Weldon said Brookings is preparing for the worst.

“We have to be prepared to react,” Weldon said. He said that if cuts were needed they would be to new projects rather than deferring maintenance.

“I would rather cut back on new projects. We need to maintain the investment that the taxpayers have made,” Weldon said.