WORTHINGTON - The 11th annual Worthington Bio Conference begins Thursday and will feature guest speakers on a wide array of topics during its two days, ranging from agriculture and animal health to economic development and workforce training.
Dan Dorman, executive director of Greater Minnesota Partnership, will offer a Friday morning presentation titled “Building Strong Rural Economy - Workforce Training and Housing.” Dorman will share information on how strengthening the workforce, housing market and broadband Internet in rural Minnesota will keep the area competitive in a global economy.
As Dorman has traveled around the state - and more specifically rural Minnesota - he has observed similar problems in many communities. A skilled workforce, job training and housing are often the top areas where towns are lacking. Likewise, Dorman said a lack of access to broadband is nearly equally problematic.
From a long-term standpoint, Dorman said the state needs to figure out how to bring broadband to Greater Minnesota for jobs as the market continues to evolve.
“If you’re going to create jobs ... 25 percent of jobs in the next decade are going to be dependent on broadband,” Dorman explained.
“That’s only going to increase. So if we’re going to be viable, vibrant, competitive communities in the next generation, it isn’t going to be something that’s nice. It’s going to be something that’s necessary.”
Minnesota has a way to go to catch up with the rest of the country in terms of access to broadband, according to Dorman.
“Right now, the state of Minnesota, we’re about 21st in the nation,” Dorman said. “(It) should be an embarrassment to all of us that there are so many other states that are so much further ahead of us in broadband.
“From a Greater Minnesota perspective, that’s huge, because it isn’t the metropolitan area that’s dragging that number down, it is Greater Minnesota. I think the state has ignored that for long enough. It’s time for the state to take action.”
Dorman said part of the problem is a lack of competition. Typically, there are a limited number of Internet providers in rural areas and therefore little competition, which does not promote the need to provide faster Internet services.
Dorman noted that initiatives have been pushed in the past few years to improve bioscience-related training. He said the program is modeled after programs in North Dakota and Iowa, and has been successful.
The program would allow jobseekers to obtain specialized training for an employer that is not necessarily provided in a typical college setting. Similar programs have been effective in other states.
Housing is difficult for many cities in the rural area. Both Worthington and Jackson have seen a large demand for housing. Even with good paying jobs in the area, it has been hard to attract developers to build in rural areas, Dorman said.
The state has offered incentives, but they don’t seem to be helping. Another obstacle for developers is found when seeking lending. Dorman said in his hometown of Albert Lea, many housing structures are more than 30 years old.
When a potential developer tries to obtain a bank loan, there are no other properties to which the new construction can be compared. Instead, banks look at what similar structures have sold for - and properties that are decades old will not sell for (nor are they worth) as much as new structures - making the process nearly impossible.
Dorman said he brings a unique perspective to the conference as a small business owner, lobbyist and former legislator. Dorman served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1998 to 2006, and was a chair of the Capital Investment or Bonding Committee. He also served as vice-chairman of Jobs and Economic Development Finance Committee, and was a co-author of the JOBZ legislation.
Dorman was recognized five times by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities for his work on behalf of Greater Minnesota, including receiving its Legacy Award when he chose not to run for reelection in 2006.
For more information on other speakers and activities pertaining to the Worthington Bio Conference, contact the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. - which has continued to coordinate the event through its 11-year history - at 362-5515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.