In the Spotlight

News & Features
Life after Fingerhut? Workers check out their options
By Jeff Horwich
Minnesota Public Radio
February 5, 2002
Click for audio RealAudio

The future of Minnetonka-based Fingerhut is still up in the air. Fingerhut's parent company announced three weeks ago it would sell or liquidate the catalog retailer. But many Fingerhut workers are already out hunting for new places to work. In St. Cloud, a student career fair opened its doors for the first time to the general public. It was an invitation to the 2,700 workers at Fingerhut's St. Cloud distribution center.

Union rally
Fingerhut workers in the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees rally outside the St. Cloud Distribution Center in late January. Click here for a larger image.
(MPR Photos/Jeff Horwich)

Every year St. Cloud State University holds its Career Expo to show students how the school can help them find a job. The agenda includes computer job databases, resume writing, personal career counseling.

Among all the young faces weaving through the tables in the student union, a few look a little out of place. Lois Carkhuff sits down in her bulky winter coat and ponders an orange checklist. She hasn't looked for a job for 27 years.

"It's kind of exciting, a little scary," she said. "First steps are always the hardest, seeing what else is out there. The world of Fingerhut has been my world for an awful long time so, what else is there? Now it's time to go explore."

Carkhuff is a credit analyst for Fingerhut. She is not among the 2,500 Fingerhut workers already given layoff notices. But now is a good time to start testing the waters.

"I am not unique at all," she said. "I think everybody is. Whether or not we do anything between now and the time we're told not to come to work anymore, not accept any jobs or whatever, we would be foolish not to at least look."

Workers at job fair
Fingerhut credit analyst Lois Carkhuff (center) checks in at the welcome desk of the SCSU Career Expo.
(MPR Photo/Jeff Horwich)

Fingerhut's parent company, Federated Department Stores, said last month it would probably liquidate the catalog retailer. In the meantime at least four potential buyers have offered some hope of salvation for the company, which is St. Cloud's second-largest employer. Twin Cities Businessman Peter Lytle issued a statement saying that he plans to make an offer this week, and hopes to retain as many employees as possible.

The words are nice, but nothing Karen Hoffman can take to the bank. The Fingerhut project manager did get a pink slip last last month, and it gave her 60 days.

"So I know that I am done at the end of March, beginning of April, unless that would be overturned because of a sale," she said. "So in my position I'm looking at, well, I have a date out there. So I need to go by that rather than a hope that they're going to be sold."

"For me personally I've decided not to commute to the Twin Cities, whereas I think a lot of Fingerhut employees will. I think the prospects are out there, but they're not very plentiful."

- Karen Hoffman

Hoffman has decided one thing: She's keeping her search local. But many others may be looking at commuting to the Twin Cities. A Minnesota job survey out last month showed St. Cloud had one of the lowest job vacancy rates in the state.

Jon Ulven, an assistant professor in the counseling center, coaches students and now Fingerhut workers through a career-search computer program. His best advice to workers who've been out of the job-hunt for a while: Start with a personal consultation.

"Putting together a resume, brushing up on their interview skills, putting together a cover letter, as well as just figuring out what can I do with the education that I have, do I have to go back to school, what's out there - all of those things together, they can really overwhelm people," Ulven said. "So if you can get some good, quick help at the beginning, it can help relieve that anxiety and help make people make better decisions."

Workers on computers
Fingerhut project manager Karen Hoffman works with the computer-based job-search programs at the Career Expo.
(MPR Photo/Jeff Horwich)

All of St. Cloud is holding its breath for a sale. So is credit analyst Lois Carkhuff. But she's still playing the field, bracing herself for the biggest shakeup she's seen in 27 years with the company.

"No matter what happens, it's not going to be the same. Even if we are sold they're not going to need all of us. So it's time to explore other options," she said.

In fact, she put in an application Monday for a job as a software tester. And if an offer comes her way she may well take it, leaving Fingerhut to its own, uncertain fate.

More from MPR
  • What happened at Fingerhut? Feb. 1, 2002
  • State officials step in to move Fingerhut sale along Jan. 25, 2002
  • St. Cloud bracing for Fingerhut closure Jan. 17, 2002
  • Fingerhut closure hits St. Cloud hard Jan. 17, 2002
  • Thousands to lose job in Fingerhut shutdown Jan. 16, 2002