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Vital Connections on Air Episode 6: Minnesota's Workforce

Minnesota has a variety of workforce challenges. In Vital Connections on Air Episode 6: Minnesota's Workforce, Laura Kalambokidis discusses how the state's tight labor market presents challenges for both employers and community members searching for creative solutions. Today's guest blogger, Michael Darger, shares his insights on this issue, as well as information about Extension's Business Retention and Expansion program.

Businesses need many resources to succeed, but which resource matters most? Strong management? Raw materials and supplies? Customers? Local support? Each is important, but most business leaders would agree that a talented workforce is crucial to success. To survive and thrive in today’s workforce environment, Minnesota businesses need skilled employees.

Quality workers—and a plentiful supply of them—are a strength of Minnesota’s economy. Despite the cold climate and perception of a higher tax environment, business has thrived here. As a result, Minnesotans benefit from above average incomes and a high quality of life. These advantages stem from our investment in education  and a quality work ethic. Still, there are, warning signals flashing about our workforce, both present and future, and we need to pay attention.

For many years, Extension has helped Minnesota communities survey local businesses through its Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) program. In recent years, BR&E survey data reveals that local businesses see a tightening availability of a skilled workforce as the most important issue. This finding is backed up by local Minnesota economic development officials (EDOs) who were interviewed this year for a BR&E research project. “If you go to a business, they're all talking about the same thing—there's not enough workers,” said one EDO. Another stated, “We are in desperate need of more employees. For all of our businesses, the struggle to find employees is getting harder.”

As Laura Kalambokidis explains, the workforce shortage in Minnesota is real and likely to grow since we have a large group of people (baby boomers) leaving the workforce. People are also moving from northern states like Minnesota to the South and West. (For example, Florida’s population increased by eight million people since 1990.) In a time of monster hurricanes, such as Harvey, Irma, and Katrina, however, these migrations might slow down or even reverse themselves. Still, it is clear that immigration to Minnesota is, and will continue to be, an important source of new residents and workers. And workforce issues will certainly continue as major news stories because of public policy implications at the federal and state levels.
What can communities do to prepare for—and respond to—the current workforce situation? Laura Kalambokidis explains that a good place to start is learning about your local economy and retaining what you are already good at. This is a smart and time-tested approach. Minnesota DEED has a wealth of information online, as well as labor market analysts who can help you navigate resources. Extension also has a number of programs that help communities. If you want to learn directly from businesses already in your community or region, conducting BR&E visits provides valuable insight.

To learn more about BR&E or related resources, contact Michael Darger at or 612-625-6246.

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