Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove was in Worthington on Monday to meet with city and business leaders about economic recovery efforts in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grove opened the event, hosted in the new open-air pavilion next to the Worthington Fire Station, by explaining some of the initiatives the state is undertaking to quicken economic recovery efforts. At the forefront of these efforts is the One Minnesota Plan, which includes goals such as:
Shrinking unemployment disparities between White and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Minnesotans by 50% by the end of 2022
Creating jobs where they are needed most, recovering all net jobs lost for Minnesota workers (particularly in Greater Minnesota and urban pockets of high unemployment) by the end of 2022
Strengthening the workforce, achieving a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels for the number of adults earning a family sustaining income after completing a state-supported program.
“There’s so much out there available, and we want to make sure everyone across the state is aware,” Grove said, adding that he also recognizes that Worthington has one of the highest labor shortages in the state.
Grove discussed the 2021 Jobs Bill that came through the Minnesota Legislature. Playing a role in the crafting of the legislation was District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, who is the Republican Lead on the House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee.
Among the highlights of the bill pointed out by Grove are a significant allotment of money for broadband, $150 million in business support for COVID, record amounts of equity in workforce and new competitive grant programs; and eight times more money for childcare than ever before.
The biggest component of the effort, Grove stated, is the Main Street Economic Revitalization Program, which is working to “rebuild downtowns after all the events of the last two years,” he said. A total of $80 million is available in a mixture of loans and grants, and another round of COVID relief funding is likely to be announced later in the week.
Additionally, a Capital Grants Program allots $18 million for any building that needs to be refurbished. Non-profits and governmental entities are eligible recipients of funding.
Grove also noted that the State Small Business Credit Initiative will award another $75 million in federal money to Minnesota for small business financing. He noted: “If you start a business in Minnesota, it’s more likely to still be around in five years than in any other state in the country.” The state also now has a Launch Minnesota program that is offering grants to mostly high-tech start-ups.
Grove engaged in a discussion with the approximately 10 other individuals in attendance, and one frequently cited topic was the ongoing labor shortage. Amy Woitalewicz, business finance director for the Southwest Minnesota Initiative Foundation, said the shortage is particularly profound in the hospitality and restaurant industries, and cited the extension of federal unemployment benefits as a potential factor.
Another oft-mentioned topic was child care, with Woitalewicz noting that a shortage in child care impacts people being able to work. Hamilton, also in attendance Monday, brought up a February 2020 meeting at Worthington’s JBS facility that discussed how to address the urgent need for child care locally and regionally.
“Getting a child care facility to cash flow … that’s the most difficult part,” Hamilton said.
Two local child care providers spoke of their own experience during the discussion, and Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson also addressed the matter.
“We have this meeting every six or nine months, then someone originates another meeting,” Robinson said. “A building is not a problem … you need a solution to fill the gap between affordability and actual cost.
“Organizations have to step forward and subsidize the gap,” Robinson continued. “It’s the same discussions every time.”
Yet another topic discussed was housing. Worthington Assistant City Administrator and Director of Economic Development Jason Brisson noted that while Worthington is continuing to “grow and flourish,” housing remains one of the city’s biggest challenges. He and Robinson both pointed out that the city had to return a state workforce housing grant of nearly $900,000 because the conditions associated with the grant ultimately couldn’t be met.
Andrea Duarte-Alonso suggested the possibility of Worthington being home to a community integration center, similar to what exists in Willmar. Hamilton said the legislature was poised to approve such a center for Worthington in 2020, but politics eventually kept it from moving forward.