Legislation proposed for SW MN workforce development

Bill would create pilot program for tuition forgiveness

MARSHALL — Filling workforce shortages and encouraging young Minnesotans to stay in the state are both important for the area’s economy, Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said. New legislation introduced in the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives could help make that possible.

On Friday, Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, sponsored legislation for the Southwestern Minnesota Workforce Development Pilot. The legislation is based on a proposal to provide tuition forgiveness for training in certain jobs at Minnesota community and technical colleges.

“This program could retain our youth to fill good paying jobs in the region,” Byrnes said. “Without a program like this, many of our young people are leaving the region and state.”

The idea for the pilot program grew out of conversations with the Southwest Minnesota Council of Mayors, said Byrnes. Byrnes is a member of the Council.

Southwest Minnesota was at risk of losing young people to incentive programs aimed at getting them to work and live in South Dakota, he said. “We wanted to mirror that program in southwest Minnesota.”

The Southwestern Minnesota Workforce Development pilot program would offer tuition forgiveness for community and technical college students in specific career areas. Byrnes said those occupations haven’t been identified yet. However, they would be chosen based on input from employers and Economic Development Authorities in the region.

In exchange for tuition forgiveness, the students would need to agree to stay employed in southwest Minnesota for at least three years.

“Minnesota West has the capacity to provide this training and we appreciate the Council of Mayors promoting this proposal,” said Terry Galswick, president of Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

Byrnes said the Southwestern Minnesota Workforce Development legislation is being proposed as a five-year pilot program, that would have a local funding match.

Members of the Minnesota Senate and House will be holding hearings on the proposals next week. Byrnes said he will be testifying to Senate committee members on Monday.

So far, the proposal has been well received, Byrnes said.

“We all know we have a workforce shortage, especially in particular targeted occupations,” he said. There’s also a lot of agreement on how to address the shortages. “One of the things we all agree on is, we’re stronger if we all work together.”


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