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Northfield’s jobless rate stands at 2.4%

ALSO: Willmar teacher sentenced in student sex case; Weather Channel misses a chance in Worthington; December freeze now the norm for Lake Bemidji; and more.

Northfield had a jobless rate of 2.4 percent in October, according to statistics released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Jeffrey Jackson of the Owatonna People’s Press reports that the figures show unemployment remains low across the region: Austin is at 2.6 percent; Owatonna’s jobless rate is at 2.7 percent; Waseca’s jobless rate is at 3.9 percent — the first time that Waseca has seen an unemployment rate of less than 4 percent since November 2006. Only Albert Lea saw an uptick in unemployment from September to October, going from 3.2 percent in September to 3.3 percent.

A former Willmar teacher will spend three years in prison after being convicted of having sex with a student. Linda Vanderwerf of the West Central Tribune reports that Chad Jeffrey Akerson, 35, of Willmar, was sentenced Monday in Kandiyohi County District Court for third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Akerson was 29 and his victim was 15 when he began having regular sexual intercourse with her in January 2010. He was her teacher at Willmar Senior High School and her coach. Judge Michael Thompson’s sentence exceeded state guidelines. “You forgot what your role in life is,” Thompson said. Rather than act as a mentor, coach and teacher, Thompson continued, “You went after what was available … This was no fault of the girl; she did nothing wrong. She trusted people she should have been able to trust.”

Weather Channel reporter Mike Seidel was poised and ready for a snowstorm in Worthington Monday morning, but with no snow in sight, the camera crews and the network headed off to pursue more weather. Too bad they didn’t wait a while. By noon, Worthington looked like a winter wonderland. After as much as 9 inches fell in the area. Schools throughout the area closed early. Numerous businesses shuttered their doors early for the day, and a host of activities were either postponed or canceled. Tuesday’s Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Holiday Parade was also put on hold. Plows hit the road at about 12:30 p.m. and stayed active through the night. Lyla Lais and Lola Lais, staff members at Worthington’s AmericInn, said that by mid-afternoon, even people as close as Adrian and Fulda were checking in to the hotel in lieu of driving home.

Lake Bemidji is freezing later and later each year. Kyle Farris of the Bemidji Pioneer reports that milder falls and springs causing a shorter season of ice coverage. John Fylpaa, a park naturalist with Lake Bemidji State Park, said the freeze-over date usually fell in late November until about 20 years ago. Four of the five latest freeze-overs on record (beginning in 1958) have come since 1998. With the usual thaw date also coming earlier, the lake is covered in ice less than ever. Less ice means more direct sunlight, Fylpaa said, “and the lake could end up being warmer overall, and there are some coldwater species that could be affected.” As for ice fishing, 4 inches usually can support a person, snowmobiles need about 5 inches, cars and trucks about a foot.

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When Moorhead police officers performed a welfare check on Moorhead mother Alex Jayne Shaw, 24, on Nov. 24, they found the mother drunk and naked from the waist down, with an infant and 2-year-old clad in urine-soaked diapers, according to court documents filed last week in Clay County District Court. Emily Welker of the Fargo Forum reports that the children’s father asked police to check on the children. When officers arrived, they heard a small child saying “Mommy, Mommy” and “wake up,” Shaw’s sister, who seemed intoxicated, opened the door. Rotting meat and milk were on the kitchen counter with several knives. They found Shaw naked from the waist down, and at one point dropping the baby when she lost her balance trying to put the child in the crib. When taken into custody, Shaw kicked and yelled obscenities and was at times incoherent, having to be carried to her cell by jail staff, documents state. She had a blood-alcohol content of 0.269 percent. She was charged with two counts of child endangerment and one count of obstructing the legal process, all of which are gross misdemeanors.

Surgical technologists, the assistants who anticipate which tool a surgeon needs next, are in high demand. Grace Lydon of the Forum reports that later this month, eight students will be the first to graduate from a new surgical technology program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. All have received job offers, and at least three have accepted jobs, said Jennifer Jacobson, dean of health careers. The surgical technology program was brought to the school from Sanford Health about two years ago as one of several programs the school is launching to meet the needs of local health care providers. “The need for workers is outpacing the number of students that we have, so we’re trying to be very creative about accommodating our workforce,” said MSCTC President Peggy Kennedy. The surgical technology program welcomed 10 new students this fall. “Health care is, of course, projected to see a shortage of skilled workers, and the intent of this program is to really stop that from happening here at Sanford,” said Stacy Lund, director of surgical services at Sanford in Fargo. 

Walt Ling, senior location executive of the Rochester campus as well as senior state executive for almost 15 years, announced his retirement from IBM Tuesday morning. Jeff Kiger of the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports that Ling started with IBM in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1977. He took over the Rochester and Minnesota leadership in 2001. When Ling moved to Rochester as an IBM executive in 1991, the company reported 8,100 employees in the city. IBM no longer reports site-specific employee numbers, but unofficial estimates say the IBM workforce in Rochester may now be less than 3,000. Ling is a board trustee for the University of Minnesota as well as other volunteer commitments. IBM has promoted two executives to fill Ling’s roles. Tory Johnson, IBM vice president of supply chain engineering, will replace him as the new IBM Rochester senior location executive. Barry Mason, IBM managing director of Anthem, is stepping in as senior state executive and will lead IBM’s state government relations initiatives.

Although several of its cities have one, Steele County is considering the creation of an economic development authority. Ashley Stewart of the Owatonna People’s Press reports that the county Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the creation of a committee to review the county’s EDA options and present a recommendation to the board. The discussion started when Bill Owens, executive director of the Owatonna Business Incubator, said the group’s board of directors is interested in changing the organization’s name to Owatonna Area Business Development Center. “We work with businesses in all stages,” he said. “By no means is it reserved for small start-up businesses. We want to appeal to all businesses in the Owatonna area.”