Advice for employers in Greater Minnesota: A report from the front

Minnesota’s rural economy is gaining strength, reports MinnPost, with many businesses primed for growth. The challenge, of course, is finding the qualified workers necessary to make that growth happen.

Southwestern Minnesota offers a “sneak peak at both the looming challenges and unique opportunities facing communities in Greater Minnesota,” according to the article, entitled “The future of Greater Minnesota’s economy is already here—and it looks a lot like Montevideo.”

Innovative approaches range from busing in potential workers from the Twin Cities for a tour of businesses, to a “regional attraction plan” aimed at marketing the area to people who are thinking about moving to a rural setting.

According to MinnPost,

Southwest Minnesota had about 6,500 job vacancies in the fourth quarter of 2016—well above its 16-year average. Moreover, media wages ‘offered’ (the wages employers advertise when looking for workers) between 2011 and 2016 increased by $2.26 per hour in the region—a jump that was also notably higher than the statewide average.

Opportunities include retail, health care and construction, along with the region’s two biggest industries: agriculture and manufacturing. But 67 percent of area business executives who responded to a survey by Enterprise Minnesota said that “attracting and retaining a qualified workforce” was their biggest concern—the highest percentage among the six Minnesota regions included in the survey.

Southwestern Minnesota employers are getting creative about meeting this challenge:

In one recent initiative, the Willmar Workforce Center worked with Hennepin County to bus about 100 job seekers from the western Twin Cities suburbs [to the region] for a tour of businesses….

[I]n Hutchison,… the city and local manufacturers have invested $1.2 million in a technical education wing at the high school that will give students an apprentice-like experience in manufacturing.

In Appleton, the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission has just started work

on trying to alter some of the perceptions of the region, creating what Executive Director Dawn Hegland calls a ‘regional attraction plan’: an effort to present the region, largely through digital media, to people who are considering moving to rural areas.

The initiative will build on the work already being done by Western Minnesota Prairie Waters, a marketing initiative whose logo is an image of Minnesota with the words ‘Get Rural.’

Examples are here, here, here, and here.

The MinnPost article profiles Chandler Industries of Montevideo, and the steps the company is taking to “grow its own” workforce:

For a time, Chandler recruited graduates of a machine tool program at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, which has a campus in nearby Granite Falls. When that program closed, the company hired one of the school’s retired teachers to train its workers.

More recently, the company received a $275,000 matching grant from the state, which—in conjunction with a Minnesota school—it will use to train workers over the next three years.

The company has also connected with high schools—even junior highs—to let students know about the career opportunities in manufacturing and how the industry has become a highly technical field, with workers running complicated, computerized equipment.

Increasingly, innovative, “self-starting” initiatives like these will be the engine that powers Minnesota’s rural economy in the future.