by Jan Saxhaug
In Northeast Minnesota, health care is big business. The region is home to Essentia Health and St. Luke’s. Essentia’s network extends throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and even into Idaho, while St. Luke’s has grown from a single hospital to a network of 38 primary and specialty clinics throughout Northeastern Minnesota, Northwestern Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Duluth, in particular, has cultivated a strong healthcare cluster that has influence throughout the upper Midwest.
In 2012, there were 32,570 jobs in the health care and social assistance sector throughout the Northeast region; this number accounts for 24 percent of all regional employment! If that weren’t enough, by the year 2020 the sector is expected to grow by an additional 33.3 percent, according to DEED’s employment projections. The largest employing sectors are hospitals (10,970 jobs) and nursing and residential care facilities (10,010 jobs). These two sectors have become highly specialized in the region and are important drivers of local economic growth.
Partly because of the strong health care network in the region, residential care facilities for aging seniors are becoming an increasingly important sector. Recently the Duluth News Tribune reported that a Bethesda, Maryland based company completed a $51 million purchase of 11 assisted living facilities throughout the Northland. The company, Northstar Realty Finance, will lease the properties to another Maryland based business, Meridian Senior Living, which will operate the facilities. Beyond looking for a presence in Minnesota, Meridian has plans to expand their operation. The company is looking to meet increasing demand by adding 10-20 more facilities, each with 30-60 employees, over the next 5-10 years. This is not a unique story. As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement and beyond, the demand for quality residential care facilities will continue to expand across the region.
Residential care facilities offer a wide range of jobs for all educational backgrounds. Social and human service assistants help elderly facility residents access the social services they need on a daily basis. The median pay for this job is $13.95 per hour. The occupation has a projected job growth of 26 percent, making it one of the more in demand occupations in Northeast Minnesota. Social and human service assistants who conduct clerical work need a high school diploma. Those that wish to work with clients need some sort of college level training. Certificates or degrees in social work, psychology, sociology, human services, or gerontology are favored.
Those interested in breaking into a health care career may be interested in becoming a certified nursing assistant. CNAs generally complete formal training in high school, technical school, or a two-year college. With increased training comes increased pay and responsibility. CNAs check with the supervising nurse for instructions about each patient, and may explain some medical instructions to patients and family members. The median wage for a CNA is $12.94 per hour. CNA employment is expected to grow by 26 percent across the region by 2020.
For those looking for a first career – or others looking to make a career change – the health care sector in Northeast Minnesota offers abundant opportunities across many career fields. Already one of the largest employers in the region, strong projected future growth will ensure that this industry is a strong employer for years to come.