After years of population decline, disparities in education funding and a need for workforce housing, rural Democrats and Republicans in the Minnesota Senate have come together to address our shared concerns for Greater Minnesota. Last week a group of eight of us met for the first time with a number of stakeholder groups to discuss which issues are of most importance to rural communities.
An issue that was raised repeatedly at this Rural Task Force by both legislators and stakeholder groups like the Association of MN Counties was the need for workforce housing. In many parts of the state outside the metro area, growing companies are having difficulty finding housing for their workers. This lack of infrastructure is preventing these businesses from expanding their workforce.
A problem that goes hand-in-hand with the housing shortage is job vacancy. Many of these same companies looking to expand are also searching for skilled workers. Many of these workers are coming from our technical schools scattered across the state. These schools have informed us that in certain training programs, students are getting job offers before they’ve even finished schooling. While this is a good thing, we need more students getting into these programs so our businesses can grow.
Transportation was a priority for many groups like the Minnesota Association of Townships and the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. The townships group oversees 6,000 bridges across the state, 500 of which are deficient. The group said trying to get them all updated is a real struggle. Likewise, other groups spoke about the absolute lack of state funding to cities under the population of 5,000. Without funding these small towns struggle to maintain their local roads.
Health and Human Services was one of the final big picture issues discussed by the Task Force. A representative from the Aging Services of Minnesota spoke about the estimated 45-65 percent increase in demand on current levels for senior health care services in rural areas of the state. The representative pressed upon members of the Task Force that the state needs to fund older adult services differently and soon.
Our first meeting was informative and many issues were addressed. Our next meeting will take place in mid-October and will focus on workforce housing and workforce training.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please contact Senator Tom Saxhaug at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-296-4136.