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Southwest Minnesota workforce pilot program introduced to legislators

A workforce program based on a proposal from the Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors, has been introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate.

Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul, Minnesota
Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul, Minnesota
Don Davis / Forum News Service file photo
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WORTHINGTON — Legislation regarding a pilot work program in southwest Minnesota was introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate this week. Based on a proposal from the Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors, the program's aim is to attract and retain workforce through supporting technical education for targeted occupations.

Made up of the cities of Worthington, Canby, Granite Falls, Pipestone, Jackson, Luverne and Marshall, the Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors began meeting around five months ago with the intention of addressing economic development obstacles in the southwest region of the state. Worker shortages and losing young workers to neighboring states were quickly identified as top concerns, and plans for a workforce development program took root.

“Our first goal is to provide education in exchange for living and working in southwest Minnesota,” said Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle. “So we would pay for the full education of a student in targeted areas ... those core trades that our communities, our businesses badly need workers.”

The program will provide tuition forgiveness for technical training at Minnesota Community and Technical Colleges for occupations where worker shortages have been identified. Students participating in such programs — mostly trade industries like electrical and automotive, though Kuhle noted this could be expanded to eventually include jobs in healthcare as well — will be eligible for loan forgiveness for every year they stay and work in the region after obtaining their degrees.

“We're going to pay for their education in exchange for their commitment to live and work in southwest Minnesota,” Kuhle said. “We hope to attract and retain employees.”

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Similar programs exist in Iowa and South Dakota, which Kuhle notes the Southwest region of Minnesota has lost young workers to in the past. He hopes, should this program succeed, it can be rolled out and applied throughout the state.

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

Funding for the program, should it be approved, would flow through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and the Southwest Initiative Foundation, which would help eligible students through administering financial documentation and aid.

The program will cost $700,000 a year to fund, with local communities expected to contribute to that funding in a three-to-one match. The resulting $150,000 cost would then be split between participating cities, with larger populations like Marshall and Worthington expected to take on more of the cost.

Presented by Rep. Rod Hamilton in the house and Sen. Bill Weber in the Senate, there are hopes that if the program receives approval and funding, it can be implemented for the 2023 school year. A senate work committee will host a hearing for the bill on Monday, and several members of the Council of Mayors are expected to testify.

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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