Marie Roggenkamp / Daily Journal: Manley Nichols, right, of Henning came to town Wednesday afternoon to meet Governor Mark Dayton while he stopped at Cafe 116 for lunch. Nichols brought the Daily Journal with him to show the Governor a political cartoon they both could laugh at.

Archived Story

Dayton looks for jobs in FF

Published 11:15am Thursday, August 25, 2011 Updated 11:15am Thursday, August 25, 2011

“Jobs” was the name of the game during Governor Mark Dayton’s Wednesday visit to Fergus Falls. In fact, he’s hoping to make it the theme during his entire tenure as governor.

“It’s going to be my priority for the next three and a half years,” he said during a stop in The Daily Journal office.

Fergus Falls was the first stop in Dayton’s jobs tour of the state, during which he hopes to glean new ideas for statewide business development. He will be making other trips around Minnesota leading up to an Oct. 25 jobs summit in St. Paul, where he will take the information he’s gathered and see how the state can learn from them.

Visiting different communities, said Dayton, allows him and his commissioners to tap into the different circumstances, challenges and strengths posed by different parts of the state, rather than to impose one-size-fits-all job-boosting efforts.

“The best economic development initiatives are local, and people who are involved – the chamber, local development officials, the mayor and the like – are people who know best where the opportunities are and the problems are,” he said. “The best prospects are the ones that you have already, and (we want to) look and see how (we) can assist with their expansion.”

Dayton had a busy schedule during his day in Fergus Falls, stopping first at PioneerCare, which Dayton said was a prime example of “how there actually is a way that government and government funds are essential to creating jobs in the private sector.” Then he began a flurry of mid-day meetings with the city and local economic leaders like the Chamber of Commerce and Otter Tail Power. After lunch at Cafe 116, he and his accompanying staff and commissioners went to M State for an economic roundtable discussion.

There, Dayton and Mark Phillips, the commissioner for the Department of Employment and Economic Development, were joined by 15 other regional leaders (including city, business, health care, education and banking representatives) to discuss the business needs of the area.

At the meeting, Dayton reaffirmed his openness to input.

“Wherever there’s a job to be saved or a job to be gained for anybody in Minnesota, I want us to be on top of it and working in close cooperation together,” he said.

After a round of introductions and some general discussion of West Central Minnesota’s strengths and challenges, most of the audience questions were handled by Dayton and Phillips, with a few additions by panel members. A major theme was helping expand businesses that are already in place in a variety of ways.

Other topics also ran through the discussion, from rising property taxes to an abundance of government paperwork to health insurance issues. More than once, Dayton or Phillips said that a statement was new to them and that they would check into it, asking that the people who brought up the subject call Dayton’s office later to check in.

One topic that Dayton and Phillips are very interested in is encouraging job training for would-be employees who need more technical skills.

“A terrific number of jobs are unfilled,” said audience member G.L. Tucker, director of manufacturing and technical products at M State – Detroit Lakes. The problem, he said, is that the people looking for work often don’t have the technical skills required for the work.

“We’ve got to entice people into those jobs,” he commented, suggesting a program that could move unskilled workers up to the next level of proficiency. “We need your help to get those people in at a student level.”

Dayton agreed, saying, “I think one of the areas where we can make the biggest impact is by better aligning the job training programs we have at our tech colleges (and) community colleges around the state (with) jobs that employers in the area are looking for.”

He added that much of that work can be done simply by discussing local needs with college chancellors and administrators and changing existing programs.

“It’s not even going to cost more money,” he said. “In fact, it may even save.”

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