MARSHALL - It's a complex question, speakers said - how can the Marshall community continue to create and fill jobs with a living wage in the future? Finding answers would be equally complex. All kinds of views and ideas were needed.
Sharing ideas for Marshall's economic future was the main focus of a "Community Cafe" event held Wednesday at the Marshall Area YMCA. The event was made possible with the help of the Blandin Foundation, said Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig.
Martig said a group of local community leaders had been through training at the Blandin Academy of Community Engagement. As part of the experience, he said, the group is committed to examining community issues. One topic that loomed large was economic issues.
"What came out of that discussion was the living wage and the poverty level in Marshall," said Cindy Verschaetse, one of the local facilitators of the community cafe.
As background, Verschaetse shared some wage and cost-of-living statistics for Minnesota and for the Marshall area. The median household wage for Minnesota is $22.41 per hour, or about $46,000 per year, she said. According to information from the Southwest Initiative Fund, Verschaetse said, the median wage in Marshall is $17.44 per hour, or about $36,000 a year.
However, the yearly cost of living for a four-person household in Marshall is higher than the annual median wage. Verschaetse said a family with two adults working full-time and two children in daycare would need $49,969 to survive. That would break down to a wage of $12.01 per hour for each working adult. But, the median starting wage in Marshall is $11.91 per hour, she said.
Employment vacancies were also an important topic for the Marshall area, Verschaetse said. In 2013, employers reported vacancies in areas like manufacturing, health care and construction. The current workforce is also aging, while population growth in southwest Minnesota hasn't been as strong as in some other areas of the state.
Unless Marshall continues to create and fill jobs with a living wage, its economic future is in jeopardy, event organizers said.
Community members attending the event were asked to weigh in on the issue and share possible ideas on opportunities to create job growth or improve workers' lives.
The idea of a living wage was one that community members thought needed more in-depth discussion.
"I think we need to define what a living wage is in Marshall," said Mary Mulder.
Many of the ideas shared at the event centered on ways to help workers continue their education and training to get better jobs and on ways to attract and retain employees to fill job vacancies in the region. In one example, Dawn Regnier, director of customized training at Minnesota West Community and Technical Colleges, said there are education programs in the Marshall area specifically geared toward helping underemployed people. Verschaetse added that Marshall shouldn't leave immigrant populations out of the economic discussion, either.
"The population that is growing in this state is the immigrant population," she said.
Martig said event organizers would study the feedback community members gave in discussion on Wednesday. He said some of the findings will be unveiled at the upcoming Lyon County Informational Summit, which will be held on April 28 at Southwest Minnesota State University.