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BLOOMINGTON — Closing the Mitsubishi Motors North America plant cast a shadow on the McLean County employment picture in 2015. But other areas in the economy are holding their own or growing.

Declines in the professional and business services sector, which includes insurance companies and is the county's largest employment category, seem to be turning around.

Total non-farm employment in the Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area was 95,100 last year, up slightly from 2014's 95,000, but still down from 97,000 in 2011, according to figures from the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council.

Charlie Moore, McLean County Chamber of Commerce CEO, said, “What I'm hearing from employers is there are jobs out there.”

A big focus is helping workers displaced by the closing of Mitsubishi. But, Moore said, work is also being done through a collaborative effort of several organizations, including the chamber and EDC, to see “how to meet the needs of employers” and give them the skilled work force they seek.

State Farm, Illinois State University and Country Financial continue to be McLean County's top employers, with 14,109, 3,639 and 1,905 full-time equivalent employees, respectively, according to the EDC.

Although employment in the professional and business services sector fell 6.9 percent, from 18,600 in 2011 to 17,300 in 2015, last year's figure was up from 16,900 in 2014.

Phil Supple, State Farm's director of public affairs, said, “The company has and will continue to fluctuate around 15,000 employees locally.” He added that State Farm “remains committed to keeping its headquarters in Bloomington because of the benefits this location provides employees and customers.”

The state budget impasse has resulted in a cautious approach to hiring at ISU. Greg Alt, vice president for finance and planning at ISU, said overall employment was flat in 2015.

“We expect it to be down in '16 because we have been holding back vacant positions,” he said, doing so, in part, “in preparation for the cuts (in state funding) we will get.”

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes lodging and restaurants, grew by 8.65 percent between 2011 and 2015, increasing from 10,400 jobs to 11,300.

The most visible addition to that sector is Hyatt Place in uptown Normal, which opened in September.

Another strong, though less visible, sector is transportation, warehousing and utilities, which grew by 8.67 percent in the same time period, from 15,000 to 16,300 jobs.

Aimee Ingalls, the EDC's director of research and economic data, said, “This is an industry that thrives in Illinois as a whole” and Bloomington-Normal is in a good position “because of the interstate access we have.”

The retail sector remains strong, with the number of retail jobs growing  6.1 percent, from 9,800 in 2011 to 10,400 in 2015.

A 108,000-square-foot Hy-Vee grocery store opened a year ago in Bloomington, employing more than 600 full- and part-time workers. Cub Foods, with 25 full- and 50 part-time employees, closed about four months later.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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