Jobs Package Aims to Help Rural Minnesota
Jobs training and workforce housing bills heard in Senate Committee
ST. PAUL, Minn. – In a multi-member unified effort to address jobs training, housing needs and a skills gap in Greater Minnesota, a package of bills authored by Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin), Sen. LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer) and Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) were presented in the Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee this week.
The bills, which total price tag adds up to around $70 million over the FY16-17 biennium, are aimed at fixing a number of issues currently hindering economic growth in rural parts of the state. The importance of greater investment in workforce housing was especially emphasized to committee members. Stories about the great difficulties in finding market-rate housing, and the high construction costs in small towns came from companies, city managers and council members from a variety of Greater Minnesota cities.
The bills are highlighted individually below:
- Jobs training and tax credit program: This set of bills, authored by Sen. Tomassoni, appropriate $15 million to implement a new and more flexible jobs training program designed for Greater Minnesota. This proposal also attacks the skills gap by reimbursing businesses for up to half of a training employee’s first-year wages. This program builds on the success of DEED’s Job Training Pilot Program and will be open to all employers in Greater Minnesota.
- Establishing a workforce housing grants program: There is an extreme lack of workforce housing in several portions of the state. The cost of construction and labor materials has really hurt the profitability of new construction in rural parts of the state. This is mainly due to the market rental rate in small towns versus the cost of construction which is the same in big cities as it is in small towns. This proposal, authored by Sen. Stumpf, provides for $10 million in grants to local units of government for market value workforce housing needs outside the metropolitan area in communities of at least 1,500 people. The money would be available to cities hoping to kickstart a building proposal.
- Creation of the Office of Workforce Housing; grant and tax credit program: This legislation, authored by Sen. Sparks, offers a three-pronged approach to the workforce housing issues facing rural Minnesota. This bill develops a Workforce Housing Fund and creates an Office of Workforce Housing within the Department of Employment and Economic Development. This bill also incentivizes small and large investors in workforce housing projects with tax credits. Grants are also part of this legislation and will go toward new market rate housing projects, the grants will be awarded competitively.