My take: Albert Lea has a bright future – he just needs more workers – Albert Lea Tribune
My take on Joe Pacovsky
Albert Lea has a bright future, but I hear and read a lot of pessimism about the current economy and the future of the region. Most rural towns of Albert Lea’s size face challenges, and we are no exception. Despite these obstacles, we have many strengths. One is our location at the intersection of two interstate highways. Another is the lakes with associated outdoor activities. To top it off, our residents are qualified and have a strong work ethic, and we have a variety of educational options.
Albert Lea Economic Development Agency and its partners are adding jobs to Albert Lea. We have a wide variety of businesses scattered across Albert Lea. They are not as obvious as the huge Wilson factory, which was in the middle of town and very visible to everyone. Today’s employers are diverse, including metal products, food processing, financial services, and many other industries.
I promoted Albert Lea from a factory site to a senior executive at a large manufacturer. It is a long-time manufacturer at the cutting edge of technology, particularly in the production of electric vehicles. It maintains excellent relations with its unions.
The executive has defined three requirements to locate a facility: 1. Workers, 2. Workers and 3. Workers.
Their main challenge is to find and hire qualified employees. He didn’t even mention Minnesota’s regulatory and fiscal environment. While a periodic review of existing regulations is necessary, blaming tax and regulatory costs for being passed on by industry is primarily an argument dismissed for a partisan stance.
Again, the main challenge is to train workers in the specific skills required by potential industries. If skilled workers are available, employers will come.
More training options should be available for our students and the current workforce, including apprenticeship programs for advanced skills. We need to provide the education and training programs to attract new people to our area and improve the skills of our current residents.
We have a great asset with Riverland. It has a wide range of courses for our students. From programs and accounting related to medicine to the skills that manufacturers need, such as welding, machining and computers. Riverland has been flexible in tailoring its programs to the needs of students and employers. Riverland provides the specialized technical training students and employers need, as well as real-world problem-solving skills.
A related requirement to make our region more attractive is the availability of quality housing. All types of housing should be available, including single-family homes and apartments, as well as building land. Housing must be available for purchase or rental.
Our investments in more varied educational opportunities would be less beneficial to the local economy if students leave the area due to lack of housing. We must continue to meet the unmet affordable housing need in our region. The Town 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 building stock. These programs must be supported.
Today’s remote working options for more types of work provide opportunities for growth, and Albert Lea’s quality of life makes it a great place to live. These types of jobs are not as visible but are a major boost to the economy, especially as some work-from-home jobs offer Twin Cities-level salaries. Housing is also key to seizing this potential, and demand for housing, including single-family housing starts, could increase due to this trend.
We need to create an environment that will attract new residents and workers. We have made a lot of progress in providing a good quality of life, including the arts and our natural resources. The cost of health care is being met and essential local medical services that were lost are being gradually restored. We must continue to support these efforts.
Finally, we need to have comprehensive child care options to allow key caregivers to join and stay in the workforce if they want to.
These investments will grow our local economy and pay dividends in the form of increased economic activity and tax revenues. If we have the skilled workers available, existing businesses will expand and new industries will emerge.
Joe Pacovsky is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.