Town meetings provide practical research

The Center begins a series of statewide meetings to help update and improves its Blueprint

Center of the American Experiment will use the fall and early winter to host a series of public town meetings to gain street savvy insights to help expand and improve some of the proposals in the Minnesota Policy Blueprint, a book length anthology of public policy recommendations.

The first will be October 14, with visits to Alexandria and Fergus Falls to see how those communities are helping manufacturers cope with the scramble to find qualified workers for their increasingly sophisticated operations. Other meetings are currently being scheduled.

“Challenges related to the skills gap are very real,” said Ron Eibensteiner, a Minneapolis-based venture capitalist who co-authored a chapter in the Blueprint entitled Unleashing Minnesota’s Job Creating Potential. Eibensteiner, who also serves on the board of directors for Center of the American Experiment, will chair the meeting along with local legislators, Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen and Representatives Mary Franson (Alexandria) and Bud Norness (Fergus Falls). Also attending will be Peter Nelson, the Center’s director of public policy.

Eibensteiner said the Center selected Alexandria and Fergus Falls as its first meetings because the communities’ educators, business community, and elected officials have collaborated seamlessly to ensure that schools are producing graduates who are ready to meet manufacturers’ needs.

“Instead of focusing first on problems related to the skills gap, we wanted to focus on a community that has found some solutions,” Eibensteiner said. “From what we can tell, no communities have done that better than Alexandria and Fergus Falls. We’re eager to find out how they did it.”

Eibensteiner said the Center’s interest in the skills gap grew from the lively discussion generated when it released the Blueprint’s jobs chapter in a session hosted by the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. He said it revolves around three issues:

  • Why aren’t more students interested in manufacturing careers, especially when there appear to be so many high quality jobs available?
  • How have the tech schools responded, both in terms of recruiting students and providing market sensitive curriculum?
  • Are there options for public/private partnerships?

The informal sessions are scheduled to include panels representing Alexandria’s educators and manufacturers. Educators include Julie Critz, Alexandria’s school superintendent, and Laura Urban, president of Alexandria Technical & College. Manufacturers will include Lynette Kluver, director of organizational development at Alexandria Industries and Dwight Taillefer, president, Massman Automation Design.

In Fergus Falls, the CAE group will tour a new $350,000 manufacturing lab at the high school that was underwritten using private, local funds.