Northern Minnesota, with our vast swaths of farm land — does not immediately bring to mind a thriving health care industry. But in the last decade, employment in the health care and social assistance sector has grown by an impressive 33 percent. A recent report by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) finds that health care is a job sector employing more people in every corner of our state than many other industries. Surprisingly, northwestern Minnesota outpaces both the southwestern part of our state and the Twin Cities in terms of how specialized the industry has become.
As a long time resident of our corner of the state, I’ve seen these changes with my own eyes. I’ve also been fortunate to be a part of bringing more good-paying health care jobs to Thief River Falls. The Sanford mental health unit in town had to turn away 120 psychiatric patients from Beltrami County alone last year because it was at-capacity. The legislature was able to work with the Department of Health and Sanford Health executives to lift the 30-year moratorium on building new hospitals and expansions. Sanford is now expanding its inpatient psychiatric facility in town from 10 to 16 beds. This is good for Sanford and its employees as well as patients throughout northwest Minnesota.
Sanford is experiencing growth in other places as well. I spoke with Ann Christenson, the Vice President of Sanford Human Resources and she told me that the Sanford Fargo area has more job openings now than they’ve ever had in their more than 100-year history. Additionally, they’ve already filled the same number of positions year-to-date as they did in all of 2013. Christenson said they expect this trend to continue as the boomer population ages and the regions’ general population continues to expand.
As our nation’s and our state’s economy changes, health care is proving to be a vital job-creator. DEED has even recommended young high school graduates to pursue study in the health care field. Supporting this trend and ensuring the industry has qualified workers will be a priority in my work as a senator.