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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton

Jobs, population discussed during northwest Minnesota summit

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THIEF RIVER FALLS -- In the midst of a struggling statewide economy, the community of Thief River Falls has a problem other Minnesota cities might wish they had.

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Thief River Falls and neighboring communities such as Roseau, located in the northwest corner of the state, have plenty of jobs but are in need of more people and more housing.

At a regional economic development summit held Monday at the theater on the campus of Northland Community and Technical College, 16 panelists, including Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, answered questions and addressed concerns about the lack of available housing and workers.

Randy Twistol of Arctic Cat said the company's Thief River Falls plant is not operating at full capacity because of a shortage of workers.

"We have jobs in northwestern Minnesota, we just need people," Twistol said, "We need people and in order to get the people, we need housing."

Rick Trontvet, vice president of human resources for Thief River Falls-based Digi-Key Corp., said the company has "gone to the ends of the state and other states" to recruit workers during an aggressive expansion of its workforce. But he said some new workers from out of the area have accepted jobs, only to be forced back out because they couldn't find a place to live in Thief River Falls.

"We have companies here that can create jobs," said Thief River Falls Mayor Steve Nordhagen, who said the community has 8,400 people and 8,000 jobs. "Our concern is keeping them here."

One audience member noted the importance of not just having jobs, but adding higher-paying jobs, so local residents could afford to support themselves and their families and would have more income to spend in the local economy.

"Jobs and economic growth are my goal for the next three years," Gov. Dayton said during the summit.

Dayton, who recently returned from a trade mission to Japan and South Korea, said he hoped the state could leverage its resources and programs to help the community by finding ways to stimulate housing growth and create more affordable housing options.

Importance of Education

The importance of Northland College and other regional educational institutions like the University of Minnesota-Crookston was also mentioned.

Cliff Tweedale of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission mentioned a slowly declining population base and an aging population trend in northwest Minnesota. Because of the area's location in the northern end of a northern state, Tweedale said "we're unlikely to be able to import workers. We're going to have to create our own," by improving education levels, graduation rates and workforce training programs.

One possible new source of economic development mentioned was Unmanned Aircraft Systems, with a number of the panelists mentioning the potential for UAS development at the Thief River Falls airport.

The need for fewer regulations on business to help promote more economic growth was also broached by panelists.

"We need to eliminate some of these burdensome regulations," said Nordhagen.

State Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, agreed, saying that Minnesota needs to become more competitive with neighboring states in its business climate.

The summit was the eighth event of its kind held throughout Minnesota. The events will lead to a statewide jobs summit to be held later this month.

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