Young veterans strengthen local workforce in Northwest Minnesota

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photo of Mike (left) and Zach (right) at Four Seasons Carwash in Baxter, MN

Veterans Mike (left) and Zach (right) bring valuable skills to their employer.

In many parts of Greater Minnesota, a large number young adults leave their hometowns after graduating high school, either for post-secondary education, more work opportunities or military service. Young military veterans who return to their hometowns become valuable members of their local workforce. For example, after serving four years in the Army, Mike returned to civilian life in Brainerd, his home town.  Zack, a classmate of Mike’s at Brainerd High School, chose to stay in Brainerd while serving as a member of the Minnesota National Guard

In 2019, Mike and Zach both were both hired by Four Seasons Carwash in Baxter, largely because of the military experience that taught them discipline, teamwork and an array of technical skills.  As Four Seasons Carwash Operations Manager Derek Parks puts it, “Zach applied for the assistant manager position, and we were surprised by the amount of experience he had at such a young age. Mike applied for a part-time position at first, but his technical skills stood out early and we promoted him to full time in a matter of weeks.” 

Like many employers struggling to find workers, Four Seasons found that hiring veterans was a smart decision.  Hiring veterans may qualify businesses for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and other financial incentives. But most important: veterans embody the ‘soft-skills’ that are often difficult for employers to find in young employees, and can be even harder to teach. 

With three car washes in Northwest Minnesota, Four Seasons now has veterans working at multiple locations.  At the Baxter location in particular, their veteran employees provided much needed stability during the first full summer of operations, and are now the bedrock of their workforce.  In a business that typically employs young adults and struggles with a high degree of turnover, the veterans’ presence has had a stabilizing effect.  “You can tell they take a lot of pride in their work, and it rubs off on others,” continues Parks “Our young workers picks up on that energy, and it leads to a positive work environment that embraces accountability and keeps our business running smooth.”

Veterans in Northwest Minnesota

According to the American Community Survey, there are 42,099 veterans in the twenty six-county Northwest Minnesota planning region or 13.2 percent of all the veterans in the state.  Meanwhile, there is a greater concentration of veterans in the region than in the state as a whole, with 9.8 percent of the region’s population 18 years and older being a veteran compared to just 7.6 percent of the state’s population being a veteran.  Home to Camp Ripley, a military and civilian training facility operated by the Minnesota Nation Guard, EDR 5-North Central has the greatest concentration of veterans in the Northwest planning region with 11.1 percent of its civilian population being a veteran. 

Veterans with service during the Vietnam era make up about 40 percent of all veterans in Northwest Minnesota, similar to statewide numbers.  In addition, there were roughly 9,500 veterans in Northwest Minnesota with service time during the Gulf War eras, a time frame that extends back to 1990 and goes to present day.  This cohort exceeds the number of veterans from the Korean War and World War II in the region.  While veterans from the Vietnam era are retiring out of the workforce, it is those younger veterans that are lending their expertise and leadership to the regional economy (Table 1).  

Table 1.  Number of Veterans and Period of Service, Northwest Minnesota, 2017

 

EDR 1 -Northwest

EDR 2 -Headwaters

EDR 4 -West Central

EDR 5-North Central

Northwest Minnesota

Minnesota

Civilian Population, 18 Years and older

65,411

64,132

175,368

125,995

430,906

4,202,305

Total Veterans

5,957

6,608

15,534

14,000

42,099

319,438

 

Period of Service

Gulf War veterans (9/2001 or later)

742

751

1,492

1,333

4,318

38,879

Gulf War veterans (8/1990 to 8/2001)

848

885

1,776

1,699

5,208

43,059

Vietnam era veterans

2,313

2,924

6,359

5,986

17,582

123,234

Korean War veterans

715

721

2,075

1,584

5,095

34,864

World War II veterans

280

327

1,187

707

2,501

18,827

Source:  US Census Bureau, 2013-2017 5 Year Estimate

 

In addition to employing four veterans in their organization, Four Seasons Carwash gave out over fifty free car washes to area veterans in honor of Veterans Day. 

By Erik White, Northwest Labor Market Analyst, and Chet Bodin, Northwest’s Workforce Strategy Consultant

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