Guest Editorial

Keeping Southwest Minnesota a vibrant place to live

By State Representative Joe Schomacker

You and I know that Minnesota is a great place to live. There are plenty of numbers to back that up. Since 2009 our economy has been healthier than the U.S. as a whole. Minnesota’s unemployment rate is lower than the national average and our job growth is more robust. Things are just better here in our corner of the Midwest.

This is where the “but” shows up.

Minnesota is aging, which is fine; we all get old. But from a big picture standpoint, it’s troubling. In the span of 15 years — from 2015 to 2030 — the number of Minnesotans age 65 or older is expected to jump from about 753,529 to 1,268,089. If current population trends continue, those 1.2 million people over age 65 will account for 1 in 5 state residents.

That simple statistic has profound implications because older Minnesotans, like older Americans everywhere, are less likely to work. And companies need workers to get things built and keep our economy vibrant.

This is such an important issue for our state that I’ve joined a group of legislators, business leaders and concerned citizens to explore the topic.

Called “Courageous Conversations: Minnesota’s Aging Workforce,” the effort is organized by the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance with support from the McKnight Foundation.

One of the reasons I’ve joined this initiative is that it is engaging Greater Minnesota with six sessions around the state.

The first conversation occurred a few months ago in Minneapolis. The next one is scheduled for March 23 in Marshall. I invite you to join us because we want to hear from everyone.

So why is this important to our area?

After the Great Recession of 2008, things started to pick up around here in 2010. At that time, job vacancies in southwest Minnesota — both full- and part-time — lingered in the 700-800 range. In the eight years following 2010, we’ve seen some ups and downs in the number of job vacancies, but it’s been mostly an upward trend. Today job openings in our area have more than doubled to 2,000, offering workers a median wage of $13 per hour.

Companies like Avera Health, Archers Daniel Midland and Tru Shrimp Systems, a shrimp farm using local grain in Balaton, are hiring or will be hiring soon. Other employers are hiring too. All in all, it’s a good time to be looking for work.

I’m proud of our businesses and workers and the results of their efforts and entrepreneurial spirit.  But I’m also concerned. The engine of our vibrant economy is our workers, and their shrinking numbers are a threat.

Without a talented, plentiful workforce, employers will be tempted to relocate plants and offices elsewhere. That could be a city in the South or maybe one of the coasts.

To keep our businesses thriving and in our community, we need to figure out a way to attract new people to Southwest Minnesota or entice a lot of folks to keep working a little longer than we’ve come to expect. And probably, a little of both.

I am excited to work in our communities and engage with workers on future plans. That may mean removing hurdles that might discourage older workers from staying on the job, and encouraging positive attitudes about older workers and their importance to our businesses. We may also need to improve job training opportunities and introduce a bit more flexibility in work schedules.

Join us on March 23rd in Marshall to share your story and let’s find a way to keep Southwest Minnesota a vibrant place to live for generations to come.

More information at http://z.umn.edu/courageousconversations2, email cspg@umn.edu, or call 612-625-5340.

Joe Schomacker represents District 22A in the Minnesota House of Representatives. He is currently in his 4th term and serves as the chair of the Health and Human Services Reform Committees.

 

 

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