In a multi-member unified effort to address jobs training, housing needs, and a skills gap in Greater Minnesota, a package of bills was 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 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. (S.F. 525 and S.F. 526)
- 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 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 kick start a building proposal. (S.F. 468)
- Workforce housing grant program and the creation of land trusts: This program is predominately a statewide extension of the pilot program created in the 2014 Omnibus Tax Bill. Currently, the pilot program only applies to Roseau and Pennington Counties. Qualified taxpayers contributing to land trusts that are used to buy land and develop workforce housing could qualify for a tax credit equal to 5% of the amount contributed for up to 20 years. (S.F. 816)
- Creation of the Office of Workforce Housing; grant and tax credit program: This legislation 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. (S.F. 764)