Guest Column: Campaign prioritizes workforce, housing, child care

Published 8:57 pm Thursday, October 25, 2018

Guest Column by Terry Gjersvik

Terry Gjersvik

 

In the latest Tribune Impact issue, Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, identified three key challenges facing our area: training skilled workers, developing workforce housing and increasing access to affordable child care. He suggested voters must keep their elected leaders accountable for addressing these challenges, to demand specific plans for solutions, rather not just general pledges of support.

I couldn’t agree more. That’s why my campaign prioritized the same issues early on. These are important, interrelated challenges. Everyone can agree that local businesses need skilled workers and that these workers need access to both affordable housing and quality child care. So what can elected leaders do to make this happen?

Starting with developing skilled workers, I learned as a teacher that assuming everyone needs a four-year degree does a disservice to over half of our students. Many bright and capable students aren’t interested in four-year degrees, and many stable, good-paying jobs in health care, manufacturing, construction and agriculture don’t require them. They require technical training that can start in high school and continue in a two-year community college or on the job.

Therefore, I propose making larger investments in our community and technical colleges and creating more training partnerships between high schools and local businesses. I also propose expanding the Minnesota Student Loan Forgiveness Repayment Program, which now primarily targets health care professionals and teachers. Expanding it to include technical workers could entice more students to pursue these fields and join our rural workforce.

Local employers cannot recruit and retain skilled workers if we don’t have attractive housing options. Young workers typically rent before buying a first home, especially when moving to a new community, and the 2014 Albert Lea Housing Study reports a shortage of high quality affordable rental properties attractive to young workers.

If elected, I would be an advocate for the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and insist on fully funding MHFA’s grant and lending programs that help working families buy their first homes and renovate older homes. Beyond legislation, I would lead by promoting public/private partnerships to facilitate the creation of new housing. Here’s how.

MHFA also administers Workforce Development Housing Program loans, which include forgivable loans that require partnerships with local developers. Our area has not taken full advantage of this program, so I would encourage our local Housing and Redevelopment Authority to apply for a Workforce Housing Development loan and partner with local developers on a substantial building project. These forgivable loans can comprise up to 25 percent of a project’s total cost, creating an attractive public/private partnership to develop affordable, quality housing. The resources exist, but we haven’t had the leadership to turn these opportunities into a concrete reality.

Housing our workforce is essential, but a young workforce also needs child care. Any working parent who has had trouble finding child care, knows how this can make maintaining employment difficult. When our community struggles to provide enough quality child care options for its workers, both families and business suffer. Accessible child care is both a family issue and an economic development issue.

Early this summer, I met with a group of local child care providers, and my campaign networked with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation to learn more about the challenges providers face and the support available to them. My team has since formulated specific plans. 

In St. Paul we must continue to fund and increase awareness of existing state grants to help new providers get started and to support the longevity of established providers. I would also propose legislation to create additional tax breaks for existing providers, to establish a formal mentorship program for supporting new providers and to revise excessive state regulations that in-home providers find burdensome.

I would fight for this legislation because we must remove every obstacle we can for those starting and operating their own child care businesses. I would also utilize a recent study by First Children’s Finance regarding the changing child care needs in our region and continue listening to local child care providers to inform any further plans and decisions.

We all want a strong local economy, so we should all want to invest in the training, housing and child care required to build it. I am a persistent leader and will work across the aisle to ensure that good bills don’t die or get vetoed because they’re lumped in with a larger partisan bill that doesn’t have the support of our governor — whoever he may be — in January. I’ll partner with anyone willing to roll up their sleeves and work together to improve life here in rural Minnesota because these key challenges impact us all. Together we work, and together we win.

If you would like to learn more about me or help with our campaign, please visit our Facebook page or website at gjersvikfor27a.com.

Terry Gjersvik is a father, farmer, teacher and businessman. He lives and works on a third-generation farm near Manchester. He is the DFL-endorsed candidate for the Minnesota House 27A seat.