ST. PAUL — Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities officials say the Legislature needs to break down obstacles so rural areas can better share in the state’s economic growth.
“If lawmakers are truly committed to achieving long-term growth and stability in Greater Minnesota, they must make significant progress on removing some of the barriers to key economic growth,” Bradley Peterson, senior lobbyist for the CGMC, sad during a telephone news conference on Tuesday.
Key policies the CGMC wants to see fulfilled in the 2015 legislative session were
outlined during the news conference.
The CGMC expects unprecedented attention towards rural Minnesota this session, with focus on Local Government Aid funding, broadband infrastructure, job training, workforce housing, and transportation.
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert and former GOP Rep. Don Dorman joined Peterson to cite issues important to economic stability in Greater Minnesota.
The overlap of these innovative projects, Peterson said, would enable employers to train new workers in specialized jobs, provide housing for a growing workforce, and create broadband infrastructure to create a lasting workforce in Minnesota’s rural areas. Some issues, he said, are a higher priority.
“We’ve traveled around Greater Minnesota and the most frequent question we received was whether there would be more broadband funding,” Peterson said.
“Our communities and businesses need high-quality broadband to be competitive in today’s economy,” Seifert added. “It is essential for business growth that everyone in Greater Minnesota has the same access to fast, reliable broadband that has long been available in the metro area.”
Seifert said the broadband infrastructure fund created by the Legislature last year will help to bring high-speed Internet to areas of rural Minnesota, but that many areas still face significant connectivity problems.
“Following the announcement of the recipients of the broadband fund, there were people left on the cutting board,” said Seifert. “We really want to urge the Legislature of that unmet need in rural Minnesota.”
The 2014 session approved $20 million for broadband. This year $200 million is being discussed.
Peterson said that since the beginning of the economic recovery six years ago, there’s more than a 50 percent increase in jobs that need properly trained employees. He pointed to higher education falling short in specialized requirements of new jobs.
“I know one example of a company that came in using German equipment, and the only people who knew how to work it were the Germans,” Peterson said in an interview after the news conference.
Road and bridge funding is an especially uncertain issue for the CGMC.
“Transportation is a huge issue throughout the state,” Peterson said. “Between the two parties, you’ve got differing priorities about how to take care of transportation ... so it’s very hard to see what the outcome will be once the session is done.”
Though the CGMC’s plan has a broad scope, Peterson emphasized each provision is important to the growth of the rural economy.
“It’s difficult to prioritize these issues,” Peterson said. “I think if you were to talk to the cities up in Greater Minnesota, they would say Local Government Aid is a huge interest.”
Although the CGMC’s plan faces challenges in the session, Peterson is looking to bipartisan support.
“We’re hopeful that people across the political board will support these ideas,” said Peterson. “Even though everyone is talking about the fact this could be a Greater Minnesota session ... Greater Minnesota needs to work harder to have its ideas heard. I think our biggest challenge is being heard among all the voices out looking for funding.”
Seifert feels good about the Greater Minnesota discussion.
“In my fourteen years in the Legislature I’ve never seen such a focus on rural Minnesota before,” said Seifert. “As we’re making sure rural Minnesota does well, we are hearing from both parties on both sides, and as a coalition we want to see this go forward.”