The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 21, 2013

UPDATED: Local citizen-lobbyists find ally in Dayton

(Continued)

ST. PAUL —

A talk from Katie Clark Sieben, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, was probably the most relevant to the business-minded crowd. She began on a high note by announcing the latest jobs figures a few hours ahead of time. February job gains helped make the Mankato region the second-fastest growing area in the state over the last year, she said.

She suggested that Minnesota would not try to win jobs with generous subsidies but would instead focus on developing an educated workforce to lure companies. She said Dayton’s new economic development program would be stricter than JOBZ because its incentives would be disbursed only after a company meets its job and investment targets.

Jonathan Zierdt, President and CEO of Greater Mankato Growth, told Sieben that area businesses would be happy to help the state test out a program that matches an industry’s desire for skilled workers with a post-secondary school that can provide that training.

“Could we do something different and lead the way in this state?” Zierdt asked.

Closing the so-called “skills gap” is a hot topic at the moment, Sieben said, but sounded something of a skeptical note as well.

“And how much of that is about a skills gap? Is it about skills or is some of it needing to happen with on-the-job training?” she said.

In other words, are companies turning an unrealistic expectation about worker preparedness into a “skills gap?”

Attendee Tim Auringer, who works at Brunton Architects, said university graduates could use some more real-world experience in his field. They know how to design buildings on a computer screen but could use more knowledge of how construction actually works on-site.

“For our industry, it’s a little bit of a tweak,” he said.

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