Minnesota State Sen. Kent Eken (D-Twin Valley) and Rep. Paul Marquart (D-Dilworth) were in Detroit Lakes Tuesday for a lunch meeting with city, county, school and business leaders, followed by a tour of local development projects.

The lunch meeting began with a presentation from Detroit Lakes City Administrator Kelcey Klemm, who reviewed progress on the city's $34 million wastewater treatment plant; the joint Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport runway and taxiway extension project, which will cost about $18 million (with about 95 percent of the funding to come from state and federal aid); and the $6.5 million project to build a new Boys & Girls Club in Detroit Lakes, which is being funded through a private-public partnership with the city; as well as proposed new facilities for the city police and public works departments.

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Klemm also noted that the city is looking at passing a resolution calling for a half-percent local option sales tax referendum to fund the police department; if approved by the council, the referendum would be included as part of the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election.

Following Klemm's presentation, Karen Pifher, west region community health manager for Essentia Health as well as the coordinator of Becker County Energize, gave an update on the group's progress on preventing the spread of tobacco use; better access to healthy foods, physical fitness programs, public housing, childcare and mental health care.

Becker County Commissioner Don Skarie's presentation focused on thanking both Eken and Marquart for their work in helping to obtain state funding for the county's new $1.8 million recycling facility, which was just completed. He also talked about the swimming beach expansion project at Middle Cormorant Lake and the new fishing pier at Dunton Locks County Park.

Becker County Museum Executive Director Becky Mitchell gave a brief update on plans for a new $6.5 million museum facility, to be built adjacent to the Historic Holmes Theatre, and noted that they hope to break ground sometime next year.

Detroit Lakes Public Schools Business Manager Ryan Tangen updated the legislators on improvements at the Detroit Lakes Middle School and Roosevelt Elementary School that are being completed this summer, while Detroit Lakes School Board member Amy Erickson talked about the district's plans for a new, $49.9 million bond referendum package, which would also be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot of the board votes to proceed with it, as expected, at its regular meeting next week.

Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Johnston talked about how the local economy is being hindered by the need for more affordable housing, daycare and transportation options, and how local businesses are looking to form partnerships with local government, schools and community organizations to meet these needs.

The last presentation at the luncheon was made by Steve Erickson, Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Technical Programs at Minnesota State Community & Technical College (M State), who talked about the high demand for workers in technical and industrial fields, coupled with less funding for higher education in general, leading to a need for colleges like theirs to "change the way we do things."

However, he added, the fact that M State is the largest community and technical college in Minnesota, outside the Twin Cities metro area, means that it is "very well positioned" to do so. He said that the college's intent is to build more public-private partnerships, such as those they currently have with American Crystal Sugar, John Deere, BTD and others, as well as to continue to make use of available grant opportunities and explore more partnerships with area high schools, such as the one they currently have with Detroit Lakes.

Marquart, meanwhile, talked about the fact that Minnesota is currently about 50,000 workers short of meeting the need for skilled labor statewide, and "it's only going to get worse." He suggested one way to help fill some of those labor gaps would be to go back to the old system where technical and community colleges were actually merged with local high schools, "so every high school student has the opportunity, before they graduate, to acquire a skill that will meet those needs."

Eken, meanwhile, noted that Detroit Lakes "serves as a good role model" for other communities across the state when it comes to forming creative partnerships with various entities to address needs like childcare and housing shortages, economic development, etc.

After the luncheon, Eken and Marquart boarded a Becker County Transit bus with about 15 city, county, school and business officials to tour not only the wastewater treatment plant construction site, but the new, $21 million Becker County Jail, which is soon to be completed; the Detroit Lakes-Becker County Airport, where Phase 1 of its $18 million airport runway and taxiway expansion project was recently completed; and also stopped at other development sites around town including the Tower Road Industrial Park (community solar garden, site of the new public works facility, etc.); West Lake Drive; the Boys & Girls Club construction site on Highway 34; and the new Stonebrook apartment complex on Stone Creek Drive.