Lack of workers hampers economy

BLOOMINGTON -- Minnesota doesn't have enough trained workers, a factor in what is expected to be an economic slowdown next year, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce members heard Tuesday.

BLOOMINGTON -- Minnesota doesn't have enough trained workers, a factor in what is expected to be an economic slowdown next year, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce members heard Tuesday.

"We are at the beginning of a cycle where our state's workforce growth will pretty much come to a halt," Senior Vice President Bill Blazer told chamber members during a Bloomington meeting about this year's Grow Minnesota program.

And the problem is worse outside the Twin Cities, he added. "There just aren't enough people to hire."

Blazer's comments came after state and local chamber officials met with leaders of 797 companies in the past year. A third of businesses outside the Twin Cities reported having trouble filling specialty jobs such as for welders and machinists. And nearly a quarter struggled finding management and other professional employees.

Tom Schabel, president of Alexandria Extrusion Co., knows the problem. In an interview after participating in a panel discussion, Schabel said finding specialty workers is a "moderate to significant" problem in his aluminum-extrusion company. It is a factor in his inability to fill about 15 jobs, Schabel added.


Schabel places some blame on Minnesota State Colleges and University officials not allowing Alexandria Technical College to be flexible enough to train workers his company and others need.

Natives of his area want to return to Alexandria, Schabel said, but do not have the training. And some who do return do not have the "manufacturing mentality" to be long-term employees, he said.

Blazer and other speakers at Tuesday's meeting echoed Schabel's concerns about lack of training. A chamber report warns that if Minnesota cannot improve its workforce training, it could lose businesses to other states.

Win Wood, whose Eden Prairie-based Micro Dynamics also has two plants in Monticello, said his company's problem is like many others in west-central Minnesota: "Our biggest challenge today is bringing in enough people to grow with us."

Micro Dynamics employed 175 in 2001 and 450 now, he said.

Workers are not being trained, he added. "I don't believe they are teaching the classes."

However, Wayne Freese of Worthington said Minnesota West Community and Technical College is doing all he could want, meaning he has plenty of trained employees at Prairie Holdings, a combination of eight agri-business companies.

While west-central and northwestern Minnesota were underrepresented in interviews conducted by the state and 36 local chamber organizations, Blazer said the west-central part of the state appears likely to face economic problems.


More than half of the firms interviewed reported plans to add jobs next year. Almost no one interviewed in west-central Minnesota has such plans.

The chamber's report did not go into why west-central Minnesota faces such problems, although it and the northwestern part of the state appear have the same -- or worse -- problems attracting trained workers as other rural areas.

Blazer said the good economic news is that 69 percent of businesses interviewed plan to add products or services next year. And Freese said the "ethanol express" will help agriculture.

High feed costs, disease in hogs and other problems will temper growth in the livestock industry, Freese said, but grain should do well.

Corn-based ethanol fuel is so big that wheat and other crop farmers are switching to corn. Freese said Iowa has so many ethanol plants in production or planned that they will need to import corn from other states.

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