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Greater Minnesota Partnership, Kandiyohi County aligned on priorities of housing, child care and broadband

Scott McMahon, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, has been making stops across the state to share the organization’s strategies and solutions to address housing, child care and broadband issues. He stopped in Willmar on Friday.

Greater Minnesota Partnership executive director Scott McMahon speaks with West Central Tribune reporting staff during a visit Friday, April 15, 2022.
Greater Minnesota Partnership executive director Scott McMahon speaks during an interview with the West Central Tribune on Friday, April 15, 2022, at the Tribune office in Willmar.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — While it seems that greater Minnesota is emerging from the pandemic in a better situation than many had probably presumed, the Greater Minnesota Partnership wants to make sure the state Legislature doesn't forget the region when finishing up the latest session.

"We have to make sure greater Minnesota is healthy. It is right now, and we have a lot of great things going for us," said Scott McMahon, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. "But there are challenges underlying all that good that is happening."

Scott McMahon serves as the executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership.
Scott McMahon serves as the executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

The Greater Minnesota Partnership is a nonprofit corporation made up of businesses, chambers of commerce, economic development authorities, cities and nonprofits from throughout the state.

It originated as a task force of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and then was established as a separate nonprofit corporation "devoted to advocating for public policies and investments that stimulate prosperity," according to its website.

Over the last few weeks, McMahon has been traveling across the state, visiting with local notables and media to share the partnership's legislative priorities and to listen to the concerns, challenges and successes taking place in the cities and counties in greater Minnesota.

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Construction work continues at the 1011 30th St. NW. apartments the afternoon of Monday, April 18, 2022.
Construction work continues at the apartments at 1011 30th St. N.W. in Willmar the afternoon of Monday, April 18, 2022. One of the concerns employers have when recruiting new employees to the area is housing. The Greater Minnesota Partnership hopes to persuade the Legislature to spend some of the budget surplus on programs that support construction of workforce housing and infrastructure to serve single-family housing developments.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

On April 15, McMahon made a visit to the West Central Tribune's office, following visits to the MinnWest Technology Campus and to area business and education leaders.

"I commend this community for how the whole tech campus happened. Not many communities could figure out how to repurpose a community asset like that," McMahon said, referring to the transformation of the former state hospital campus in Willmar. "What you have done is remarkable."

In 2022, as the region continues its post-pandemic recovery, the Greater Minnesota Partnership's priorities mirror those of Willmar and Kandiyohi County — housing, child care and broadband.

These are especially important factors when businesses are trying to recruit employees from outside the city or county during this time of workforce shortages and very low unemployment.

McMahon said, so far, businesses are still committed to greater Minnesota, but the goal of the the partnership is to make sure communities don't reach that tipping point at which businesses begin to reconsider that commitment.

"If we don't have a place for them to live and we don't have a place for them to place their kids, they will not come," McMahon said. "We can only have that for so long before a business starts to say 'I can't function in this reality and I need to look somewhere where I don't have these challenges.'"

Construction work continues at the 1011 30th St. NW. apartments the afternoon of Monday, April 18, 2022.
Construction work continues at the apartments at 1011 30th St. N.W. in Willmar the afternoon of Monday, April 18, 2022. Housing, child care and broadband are issues that local officials have focused on and they mirror the priorities of the Greater Minnesota Partnership.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

As McMahon has traveled across the state, he has heard stories about how hard it is for families to find a variety of housing options at different cost levels, to secure child care and to obtain high-speed broadband to be able to connect to work, school and entertainment. Any successful long-term solutions for these problems will most likely require the private and public sector partnering together.

"The problems are everywhere," McMahon said. "The solutions are everywhere."

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Greater Minnesota Partnership executive director Scott McMahon speaks with West Central Tribune reporting staff during a visit Friday, April 15, 2022.
Greater Minnesota Partnership executive director Scott McMahon speaks Friday, April 15, 2022, with the West Central Tribune in Willmar.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

With the state sitting on a budget surplus of $9 billion, McMahon hopes the Greater Minnesota Partnership can persuade lawmakers to spend some of that money on a variety of programs that could help answer some of these issues.

Examples include the Greater Minnesota Workforce Housing Development Fund to help build multi-family workforce housing; the Greater Minnesota Housing Public Infrastructure Grant program, which would help fund the construction of infrastructure such as utilities and roads for single-family housing developments; Greater Minnesota Child Care Facilities Capital Grant program for building and expanding child care facilities; and the state Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program to help fund broadband improvements across the state.

Getting funding for these and other programs will only happen if the state's divided Legislature and the governor can agree. The current session will wrap up in May, and because it is not a budget year, the lawmakers are not obligated to pass any sort of legislation, whether a bonding bill or spending of the surplus.

McMahon said he figures both the Democrats and Republicans will probably want to keep as much of the surplus on the table going into the election, on the chance that what is a divided government today will be unified under one party in January. However, that would delay getting any of the partnership's priorities addressed in the short term.

"We have needs right now, we have things we need to get done in our communities and across the state, that this $9.3 billion can go a long ways to addressing," McMahon said.

The bonding bill can help fund infrastructure, broadband and educational needs in the region.

"It is a very important bill for Greater Minnesota," McMahon said. "It would be a travesty if we walked out of the session without a bonding bill."

And while the void between the metro area and Greater Minnesota seems to grow wider every year, McMahon said both regions need to understand they need each other to be successful for Minnesota to continue to grow and be prosperous. That is also true at a more local level.

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"When Willmar is healthy, when Willmar is vibrant, then all of the other smaller communities around it are stronger," McMahon said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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