Southwest Minnesota Workforce Pilot Presented to Legislators – The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Legislation regarding a pilot work program in southwestern Minnesota was introduced this week in the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate. Based on a proposal from the Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors, the program’s goal is to attract and retain the workforce by supporting technical education for targeted occupations.

Comprised of the cities of Worthington, Canby, Granite Falls, Pipestone, Jackson, Luverne and Marshall, the Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors began meeting about five months ago with the goal of addressing barriers to economic development in the southwestern region of the state. Labor shortages and the loss of young workers to neighboring states were quickly identified as primary concerns, and plans for a workforce development program took hold.

“Our first goal is to provide education in exchange for living and working in southwestern Minnesota,” Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle said. “So we would be paying for a student’s full education in targeted areas…those basic trades that our communities, our businesses badly need workers.”

The program will provide a tuition rebate for technical training at Minnesota community and technical colleges for occupations where labor shortages have been identified. Students in such programs — primarily commercial industries like electrical and automotive, though Kuhle noted this could be expanded to eventually include healthcare jobs — will be eligible for loan forgiveness. for each year they will stay and work in the region after graduating. .

“We will pay for their education in exchange for their commitment to live and work in southwestern Minnesota,” Kuhle said. “We hope to attract and retain employees.

Similar programs exist in Iowa and South Dakota, where Kuhle notes that the southwestern Minnesota region has lost young workers in the past. He hopes that if this program is successful, it can be rolled out and applied across the state.

“We want to compete on a level playing field,” he said. “Our businesses are suffering, especially in these targeted areas of education.”

Funding for the program, if approved, would go through the Minnesota Department of Jobs and Economic Development and the Southwest Initiative Foundation, which would assist eligible students by administering financial documentation and aid.

The program will cost $700,000 per year to fund, with local communities expected to contribute funding in a three-to-one ratio. The resulting $150,000 cost would then be split among the participating cities, with larger populations like Marshall and Worthington having to bear a greater portion of the cost.

Presented by Representative Rod Hamilton in the House and Senator Bill Weber in the Senate, it is hoped that if the program receives approval and funding, it can be implemented for the 2023 school year. A Senate working committee will hold a hearing on the bill on Monday, and several members of the Council of Mayors are expected to testify.

Michael A. Bynum