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Baby Boomer Retirements To Transform Rural Minn.

ROSEAU, Minn. (AP) -- The oldest members of the baby boom generation turn 65 this year. That means big implications for the workforce across Minnesota, but it will bring special challenges to rural areas.

One of them is the northwestern Minnesota town of Roseau, where the Polaris Industries Inc. plant is the community's largest employer by far, with 1,400 people making snowmobiles and ATVs.

Business is picking up, and human resources director Brooke Coffey told Minnesota Public Radio for a story that aired Monday that the company plans to hire another 200 workers in the next few months. He said that's not an easy task in far northern Minnesota.

"It's challenging in rural Minnesota whenever you have a hiring spike or a ramp-up," Coffey said. "It is very challenging to attract the number of people that you would like to get to be selective."

And it's about to become even more challenging. Forty percent of the plant's workers are baby boomers between the ages of 47 and 65.

Across Minnesota, about 700,000 people will reach retirement age in the next decade. That's almost as many as in the previous four decades combined.

Coffey projects workers hitting retirement age will more than double over the next five years at Polaris, which means the company will have to hire hundreds of new workers just to maintain current levels. She said the key to attracting so many workers in a shrinking labor force is to offer competitive wages and attractive benefits.

"It's hard to really go do much about it, but planning for it, understanding the challenge and how to meet that challenge is going to be important over the next several years," he said.

Other major employers in town expect similar challenges. LifeCare Medical Center, the local hospital, projects the number of nurses reaching retirement age will nearly double in five years. Hospital spokeswoman Deb Haugen said officials there already are aggressively recruiting, and their focus is on encouraging local high school students to consider health care careers.

"We can't let our guard down," Haugen said. "We need to continually look at that future and say `Are we doing what we need to do to continue to be fully staffed?"'

The Roseau School District will have to get more aggressive about recruiting, too. The district typically saw just one or two teacher retirements a year. Last year there were four. This year there are five, and Superintendent Larry Guggisberg projects the pace will pick up well into this decade.

"We're going to need to replace them, and we feel that's going to be a difficult thing to do," Guggisberg said.

Some teachers are hanging on to their jobs past retirement age, either to keep their health care benefits or because the recession has reduced their available retirement income. But eventually there could be a shortage of teachers, especially math, science and special education.

But Guggisberg said there's a positive side. As boomers retire, financially strapped school districts will save money and avoid layoffs by replacing departing senior teachers and their large salaries with cheaper new hires.

It's not just big employers that will feel the effects.

"I've had my accountant for 22 years in Roseau and he says he's retiring. My doctor is retiring. My lawyer, the attorney that we use is retiring," Guggisberg said.

Along with the loss of baby boomers, demographers say the number of young people entering the workforce will decline.

By the 2020s, the state's labor force growth rate will reach record low levels. State Economist Tom Stinson said that means more counties will see population declines. But he also said some aging communities could see rejuvenation as young immigrants come to Minnesota to fill jobs.

"This is not something to be feared. It's something to be aware of and to plan for," Stinson said. "And the individuals, the firms, the communities that figure out how to deal with it, they're going to be furthest along toward success in the next two decades.

Most of the increase in 65 and older population in Minnesota during this decade will occur in the Twin Cities metro area. The baby boomer retirement trend will be largely over by 2030.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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