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Lincoln County has state's highest unemployment

| April 27, 2007 12:00 AM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News

While Montana in March experienced the lowest unemployment in the nation, Lincoln County had the highest rate in the state.

The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined for the third consecutive month to 2 percent, according to a news release from Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Lincoln County's was 7.4 percent - the highest among Montana's 56 counties. Glacier County followed at 7.1 percent.

"We're always pretty high compared to the rest of the state," said Johnette Watkins, business advocate for Kootenai Workforce Center in Libby. "But it's nothing like it used to be. It's a lot lower. It was up in the teens."

Unemployment rates for other regional states showed North Dakota at 3.1 percent, South Dakota at 3.1 percent, Wyoming at 2.6 percent and Idaho at 2.8 percent.

"The state now has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and is well below the national average of 4.4 percent," Schweitzer said.

In a related matter, 13 companies and nearly 140 job seekers attended a Thursday job fair at the Lincoln County Campus of Flathead Community College, Watkins said.

"There were some that didn't get counted," she said.

Eric Klepfer, vice-president of operations for Mines Management, said he gave out more than 100 applications as the company continues its $400 million attempt to reopen the silver and copper mine 12 miles south of Libby.

"We're very excited about it," Klepfer said. "Clearly there were a lot of people looking ahead, asking about education and training."

Mines Management by next year hopes to make a production decision so it can begin construction in 2008. Some 500 construction workers will be needed. Permanent employees could operate the mine for an expected 15 to 20 years.

Mines Management, which eventually could employ 250 to 300 at $40,000 to $50,000 annually, by August or September will begin hiring 25 to 30 miners and equipment, Klepfer said.

Mines Management in August 2002 began the process of re-permitting the Montanore Mine near Forest Service Road 278 off Bear Creek Road.

The company in May 2006 acquired Noranda Finance Inc., including Noranda Minerals Corp. and Normin Resources Corp. Noranda shut down the fully permitted mine in 1994 before beginning operations due to low metal prices.

McDonald's in Libby also got a few applicants, said swing manager Monica Hartley.

"We do have one person that we set up an interview for," Hartley said. "There's also a couple of good candidates that we will ask to come back to take another test."

The fast-food restaurant employs 35 part- and full-time workers. Pay starts at $6.25 an hour.