Column: Greater Minnesota strives for economic growth

Below is a guest column written by GMNP Executive Director Dan Dorman. It has been published in several newspapers in Greater Minnesota.

When I took on the role of executive director for the Greater Minnesota Partnership four years ago, it didn’t take long to notice a few patterns when it came to discussing the challenges facing economic development in Greater Minnesota.

Whether our meetings were in Albert Lea or Thief River Falls, business and community leaders pointed to similar obstacles to growth. They talked about the need for world-class broadband to help compete on a global scale, more options for job training so employers can obtain the skilled workers needed to fill open positions, and more workforce housing so employees and their families can live in the community where they work.

As the GMNP prepares for the fifth legislation session since the organization began, we are proud to have made strides in addressing many of those needs. By working together, our members — more than 90 businesses, economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, educational institutions and other nonprofit organizations — have fought for legislation that makes a real difference in improving opportunities for economic growth.

Here is a brief rundown on a few of the GMNP’s legislative accomplishments:

BETTER BROADBAND

When the GMNP started in 2014, the lack of high-quality broadband was the top complaint amongst business leaders in Greater Minnesota. Our group researched, drafted and helped advocate for the creation of the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which helps bring high-speed broadband to more homes and businesses. To date, $85.6 million has been awarded to increase broadband access, helping mostly Minnesota-based providers expand access to more than 3,000 businesses and 25,000 households throughout Greater Minnesota.

MORE SKILLED WORKERS

Another issue that comes up time and again is the struggle to find skilled workers to fill the numerous open positions at many businesses. The GMNP advocated for the creation of the Job Training Incentive Program, which the Legislature established in 2015. This fast, flexible and employer-driven program provides grants to help Greater Minnesota businesses train workers needed to fill jobs that are open now.

A PLACE TO LIVE

Another hindrance in attracting workers to Greater Minnesota is that many communities simply do not have enough places for them to live. The GMNP has pushed for funding for programs that aim to address this workforce housing shortage. In just a few years, these programs have created more than 325 units across Greater Minnesota with only about $5 million in funding — a strong return on investment.

TAX RELIEF FOR MAIN STREET BUSINESSES

Property tax relief, particularly targeted at small- and medium-sized companies, has also been a top priority for the GMNP. In 2017, the Legislature passed legislation that will reduce property taxes for businesses by exempting them from the first $100,000 of the state’s commercial/industrial levy. This exemption will have the greatest impact on Main Street retailers and other small businesses.

ISSUES ON THE HORIZON

While we are proud of our accomplishments, the GMNP is always keeping an eye out for other challenges that impact economic growth in Greater Minnesota. One that issue that many of our members are passionate about is child care. The lack of available child care options is a serious concern because it makes it difficult to attract young families and workers needed to help businesses and communities grow. It is clear there is strong interest in this issue – in fact, more than 75 people recently joined us on a conference call to discuss the topic.

As we begin to develop our priorities for the 2018 legislative session, the GMNP will continue to explore child care and other concerns affecting Greater Minnesota’s economic development. If you have any ideas or suggestions about economic issues facing Greater Minnesota, please email me at dan@gmnp.org. I would love to hear from you.

For more information about the GMNP and a complete listing of the issues we work on, visit our website at gmnp.org.