My Point of View: Albert Lea has a bright future — it just needs more workers

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, October 19, 2021

My Point of View by Joe Pacovsky

Albert Lea has a bright future, yet I hear and read a lot of doom and gloom about the area’s current economy and future. Most rural cities of Albert Lea’s size are facing challenges, and we are no exception. Despite these obstacles, we have numerous strengths. One is our location at the intersection of two interstate highways. Another is the lakes with the associated outdoor activities. To top it off, our residents are skilled and have a strong work ethic, and we have a variety of educational options.

Joe Pacovsky

The Albert Lea Economic Development Agency and its partners are adding jobs to Albert Lea. We have a large variety of businesses scattered throughout Albert Lea. They are not as obvious as the huge Wilson plant, which was in the middle of the city and very apparent to everyone. Current employers are diversified including metal products, food processing, financial services and many other industries.

I promoted Albert Lea as a plant location to a top executive of a major manufacturer. This is a longtime manufacturer on the cutting edge of technology, including the production of electric vehicles. It has excellent relations with its unions.

The executive outlined three requirements to locate a facility: 1. Workers, 2. Workers and 3. Workers.

Their primary challenge is finding and hiring skilled employees. He didn’t even mention Minnesota’s regulatory and tax environment. Although periodic review of existing regulations is necessary, blaming tax and regulatory costs for being passed over by industry is mainly an argument thrown out for partisan posturing.

Again, the main challenge is training workers in the specific skills required by prospective industries. If skilled workers are available, the employers will come.

More training options must be available for our students and present workforce including apprenticeship programs for advanced skills. We need to provide the educational and training programs to attract new people to our area and upgrade the skills of our existing residents.

We have a great asset with Riverland. It has a broad range of courses for our students. From medically related programs and accounting to skills manufacturers need such as welding, machining, and computers. Riverland has proven to be flexible in adjusting its programs to the needs of students and employers. Riverland is providing the specialized technical training students and employers need, as well as teaching real world problem-solving skills.

A related requirement to make our area more attractive is the availability of quality housing. All types of housing must be available, including single-family houses and apartments, as well as buildable lots. The housing needs to be available for purchase or rent.

Our investments in more varied educational opportunities would be less beneficial to the local economy if students move out of the area due to lack of housing. We need to continue to address unmet affordable housing needs in our area. The city of Albert Lea has various programs to increase the availability of different types of housing, including single-family homes and apartments. Also included are initiatives to maintain and improve the existing housing stock. These programs need to be supported.

Today’s remote work options for more types of work provide opportunities for growth, and Albert Lea’s quality of life makes this a desirable place to live. These types of jobs are not as visible but are a major boost to the economy, especially since some work-from-home positions provide Twin Cities’ level salaries. Housing is critical to capturing this potential as well, and demand for housing, including single-family housing starts, may increase because of this trend.

We need to create the environment that will attract new residents and workers. We have made much progress in providing a good quality of life including the arts and our natural resources. The cost of health care is being addressed, and the essential local medical services that were lost are in the process of being gradually restored. We must continue to support these efforts.

Finally, we must have comprehensive child care options to allow primary caregivers to join and stay in the workforce if they desire.

These investments will grow our local economy and pay dividends in the form of increased economic activity and tax receipts. If we have the skilled workers available, existing businesses will expand and new industry will come.

Joe Pacovsky is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.