Southwest Minnesota mayors propose workforce program

A group of southwest Minnesota mayors from Pipestone, Canby, Granite Falls, Jackson, Luverne, Marshall and Worthington has proposed a pilot program intended to retain and attract workers by supporting technical education and training for targeted occupations.

“A couple of us mayors were sitting around after meetings and we started talking about various things that we have in common as cities and one of the things we really are fighting in southwest Minnesota is a loss of working age population, and there’s a whole raft of issues that go along with that, be it housing, employment, what have you,” Pipestone Mayor Myron Koets said during the Feb. 22 Pipestone City Council meeting.

They came up with a program modeled after Build South Dakota. That program offers scholarships that pay for 100 percent of the cost of a degree from one of four technical colleges in South Dakota for people entering high-demand programs who work full-time in their field of study for three years in South Dakota after their graduation.

The Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors, as the group calls itself, is proposing a similar program for people going into one of eight targeted occupations that were selected based on input from employers and economic development authorities in southwest Minnesota, and training capacity at Minnesota West Community and Technical College campuses. The targeted occupations include carpentry, mechatronics, automotive, plumbing, auto technology, agriculture diesel, electrical, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

The proposal would require enrollment at Minnesota West in a course of study in one of the eight targeted occupations and a commitment to work in the targeted occupation in southwest Minnesota for a minimum of three years. It would provide tuition payment of up to $8,000 a year for a two-year course of study. Koets said the state would provide $6,000 and a business would provide $2,000 by sponsoring a student who would later work for them.

“We would be looking at that second tier of students,” Koets said. “Not the students who qualify for all the financial aid because of their economic status, but that next step up where parents have some net worth where they don’t qualify for financial aid.”

The Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors wants to try the pilot program for five years and is seeking $600,000 in state funding each year, for a total of $3 million, with another $150,000 in local funds each year. Koets said the group is hoping that the state funding will be provided during this legislative session.

He said the mayors formed the group because together they represent about 44,000 people, which might help them when seeking legislative solutions. He said the Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors will continue to meet to address other issues that affect southwest Minnesota.