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Minnesota needs to fill gap on metro, non-metro economic growth

One of the main concerns that plague rural Minnesota is keeping young people in small communities and losing them to the bright lights and higher pay of the metro areas.

With that lack of people staying local, smaller communities are finding it more difficult to grow economically

That can be said for Detroit Lakes as well, and about 20 members of the community talked about it Tuesday night with representatives from Greater Minnesota Partnership.

“The need is greater in Greater Minnesota,” GMNP Executive Director Dan Dorman said of job growth.

Greater Minnesota Partnership is a public-private nonprofit corporation that is “committed to stimulating economic growth and prosperity in Greater Minnesota,” the organization says.

They provide up-to-date information on economic development policy changes and initiatives led by the GMNP that are being considered at the Capitol.

GMNP is working to fill the gap between metro and non-metro salaries. Dorman said that while studies show that Minnesota is the eighth best state in the nation to do business, studies also show that Minnesota is 42nd in nation for a gap between metro and non-metro pay.

GMNP lobbyist Mike Miller said the group has been working on job training to keep young people local. He said the oil fields of North Dakota is a prime example of training workers and paying them a salary that keeps locals local. Not that there is an oil surge in Minnesota, but training people for their jobs and paying them a good wage should be doable.

When Dorman and Miller visited Detroit Lakes last week, their question was what’s the biggest problem Detroit Lakes has when it comes to economic growth.

“Businesses are constrained by availability of workers more than anything,” City Administrator Bob Louiseau said.

He also listed affordable housing and retaining young people “so they can see a future for themselves.”

Education versus training was also a concern. A four-year college is not for everyone, and forcing a student who just wants to work in auto body repair, for example, to take English classes deters students from finishing college.

Miller said that while school counselors may gauge their success by how many students go off to a four-year college, what really should be measured is how many of those students graduate from that four-year college.

Instead, students are attending a couple years of college, getting frustrated, dropping out with debt and either going to a trade school and being happy with their career, or getting a minimum wage job and paying off debt for years to come.

Dorman also asked for any successful programs or ideas that Detroit Lakes uses that GMNP can take back to other communities.

Alderman G.L. Tucker said one thing the school district and businesses partner on is the School-to-Work program. Not only do high school students get the opportunity to job shadow in careers of their choice, but businesses are also providing equipment to teach students an exact trade that is needed at manufacturing businesses around the area.

“I’m glad they’re doing it, but they shouldn’t have to,” Dorman said.

Minnesota as a whole

While talking about difficulties in Detroit Lakes, Bremer Bank President Ron Mueller touched on Minnesota as a whole. He said his clients are seeing too much of a savings when they move headquarters from Minnesota to North Dakota.

“To be a friendly business state, we need to be competitive and exciting,” he said.

“We should be competitive whether with South Dakota or South Korea,” Dorman said.

Miller said that Minnesota has not kept up with the nation and what it once produced. Minnesota has so many restrictions on land use that companies have to move out of state for production. But, with production decreasing, taxes haven’t lowered at all, and the state, and its residents, can’t afford to have the taxes it once did.

Miller said the state needs a complete overhaul of the K-12 school system and colleges, change land use restrictions and lower taxes to make Minnesota more affordable.

Miller and Dorman are on a tour throughout Greater Minnesota to gather ideas and use for lobbying purposes at legislation time.

Goals for 2014 include developing “bigger, stronger economic development proposals that can be introduced in 2013 and become a topic of discussion in the 2014 election.”

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.