U.P. County Tops State Unemployment Rate Michigan's Baraga County has the state's highest unemployment rate, and at around 25 percent it's the third highest in the nation. Host Liane Hansen speaks with Baraga Village Manager Roy Kemppainin.
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U.P. County Tops State Unemployment Rate

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U.P. County Tops State Unemployment Rate

U.P. County Tops State Unemployment Rate

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On the Upper Peninsula, there was some bad news for Baraga County, Michigan this past week. The Terex Handlers company will close its Baraga plant - 90 people will lose their jobs. Baraga County - about an hour and a half drive west from Marquette - already has a 24.5 percent unemployment rate. It's the highest in the state of Michigan and the third-highest in the country.

(Soundbite of telephone ringing)

Unidentified Man: Village office. No, she's gone for the afternoon. Okay. Yeah, bye.

HANSEN: Roy Kemppainen administers Baraga Village, a town of 1,300. He's been a village manager in this area for 25 years. Kemppainen told us that Baraga's over 100 years old.

Mr. ROY KEMPPAINEN (Village Manager, Baraga Village): It started out a lot with the logging industry, trapping, that kind of situation. That was basically the way it started.

Unidentified Man: In Baraga, you will see some more great scenery and our Ojibwa Casino Resort in Baraga. It's the first operational Native American casino in Michigan. Don't wait for the fun to come to you…

HANSEN: This casino is the county's largest employer. Kemppainen is grateful for its presence.

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: Actually, the village of Baraga had real good relationship with the local tribe. So, I'd say it's been a real plus. They do have casino operations as well as other enterprises that - they do a major employment in the county.

HANSEN: So, there are people that can go work for the casinos?

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: Absolutely.

HANSEN: Can that also have a negative effect? I mean, people with little money gambling away what they have?

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: I guess that is a common thing as far as people, you know, spending funds they don't have available for that recreation and hopefully it won't become a problem. But I guess that's a problem whether or not you're working or not.

HANSEN: How many jobs would you estimate that the casino provides for people in the Baraga area?

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: I think that tribal employment is upwards of 700 people, I think in the county.

HANSEN: How long have you lived here?

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: I actually grew up about three miles from here, so I've been here my entire life. And I'm into my 50s, put it that way.

HANSEN: You've never had any desire to leave and go someplace else?

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: No, not really, not really. I guess I'm just a country boy at heart, I guess.

HANSEN: What do you think of the future prospects for Baraga?

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: Well, I think we are well-positioned. We have a lot of skilled labor here as far as fabrication, those kinds of situations. I think the work ethic is really good. You know, if the economy does start turning around, I believe they'll be able to go forward.

HANSEN: And it must be tough knowing that you had the highest unemployment in the state and the third-highest unemployment in the country.

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: Yes. Yeah, it is. It's certainly not something you want to be known for. I guess the only thing I would say is those people are interested in work and certainly are more than capable of doing it. And I hope that, you know, they have that opportunity again shortly.

HANSEN: And what would it take? Government help?

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: You know, it's a situation. I think if the building industry or home building, stuff like that, starts to rebound, I think we'll probably see an upturn in the employment in the area because the orders will be coming in for these pieces for machinery.

Like I said, you know, signs are that things might be turning around on that situation a little bit. It just seems to take a little while to trickle down.

HANSEN: You do seem optimistic, though.

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: Well, you have to be when you've been a manager for this many years. You have to have a positive attitude or you got to get out of it, I guess.

HANSEN: Roy Kemppainen is the village manager of the Village of Baraga on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Thank you for your time.

Mr. KEMPPAINEN: Thank you.

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