House jobs bill includes many GMNP priorities, but more funding needed

Last week, the House Jobs and Economic Development Committee passed legislation (HF 2976) that provides the framework for some great rural initiatives. The bill contained some funding for broadband, job training and the state’s initiative funds; however, the funding level needs to be adjusted to really impact job creation.

The House bill provided $25 million for broadband funding in both unserved and underserved areas. “Unserved” is defined as areas below the federal standard of 4 megabits per second (mbps) download speed and 1 mbps upload speed, or speeds fast enough for casual personal use. “Underserved” is defined as below the state goal of 10 mbps download/5 mbps upload. The bill will provide grants to entities—public or private—that want to create partnerships and put some cable in the ground to improve broadband across Greater Minnesota.

While the bill contains some compromise on the broadband issue, we are concerned that there will be a motion on the House floor this week to limit the bill to unserved areas only. This would severely limit the economic development applications of this funding by creating an atmosphere where sparsely populated regions have better service than cities that need the speed for telemedicine, education and commercial uses. The GMNP opposes efforts to limit this fund to unserved areas.

The bill also contained job training legislation that will provide up to $3,000 per employee to businesses that provide training approved through the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). To qualify for a grant to offset the cost of training a new employee, a business must provide new jobs that pay at least $11 per hour. The training can be on-the-job, with a private trainer or through an agreement with a college. This job training grant program was funded at $1 million for one year.

We greatly appreciate this job training legislation, and in particular the passion and dedication of the author, Rep. John Ward (DFL-Brainerd), but the funding for this project must be increased. Funding at $1 million allows for only three or four employees to be trained per Greater Minnesota county. It is imperative that we work to increase the funding and fix the skills gap in our rural communities as this provision goes to conference committee.

As far as gap funding goes, the bill contains a $1 million for each of the  state’s six initiative funds. This $6 million appropriation will help generate loans for small businesses trying to create jobs in Greater Minnesota. This will allow for more loans – and more risk – from the initiative funds.

In all, 91 percent of this bill is sending funds to Greater Minnesota. It is designed as a good bill for us. Unfortunately, with only $37 million in total funding, there simply isn’t enough funding to match our needs.