ST. PAUL, MINN. –Workforce development and workforce housing were the center of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of the bipartisan Senate Rural Task Force on Economic Development. The task force invited a number of speakers including the president of Central Lakes College, an Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) representative, a Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) representative and others. Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), chair of the task force, was happy to hear about partnerships MnSCU and the IRRRB were making with businesses in their regions.
“As senators from rural areas, we are familiar with the challenges our colleges have in attracting students. But MnSCU is moving in the right direction by partnering with local businesses and starting apprenticeship programs in high-demand skills areas like manufacturing. Likewise, the IRRRB is making a difference by facilitating long-distance learning which helps increase opportunities for students,” said Sen. Saxhaug.
Central Lakes College President Larry Lundblad discussed how his college and two other nearby campuses have secured 18 different manufacturing partners that he attributes a lot of his students’ recent success. He cited areas that needed improvement were high schools hoping to increase their partnerships with businesses, which would help jump start students skills.
IRRRB Workforce Development Director Roy Smith spoke about action being taken on the Iron Range to provide training close to home. Smith said by providing avenues for the population to be educated near their homes, the chances of those people staying and working on the Range and contributing to the local economy, increases.
Workforce housing issues across the state was an equally important topic discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. Many successful rural businesses like Ag-Co in Jackson and Polaris Industries in Roseau have stated their desire to expand – but the areas where they are located have a significant lack of housing. When workers can’t find a place to live, it is harder for a business to expand.
According to the MHFA, the Governor’s Housing and Job Growth Initiative has already invested $10 million over the last two years to stem the problem. Additionally, this initiative is helped by leveraging employer contributions – like the $650,000 in estimated tax credit equity from Polaris to help build new rental units in Roseau.
“It’s important that we study and understand this problem so we can make investments to improve the housing conditions that are hampering economic growth in our state,” said Sen. Saxhaug.