As we complete the first quarter of 2021, I reflected on the work I was blessed with throughout the pandemic. As many businesses, my work took a dive at the beginning of the pandemic but as the year progressed, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with several amazing rural organizations and businesses. What I love most, is witnessing how the work intersects. Take a look at the examples below and I’m certain you will see it as well!
LYFT Career Pathways is a regional effort lead by the SWWC Service Cooperative to rebuild career and technical education in southwest and west central Minnesota. Nearly 9,000 students thus far have been impacted through this effort funded largely through a $3 million dollar grant from the 2017 Minnesota Legislative session that extends through June, 2022. These projects are helping students gain workforce skills while exposing them to the businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities right in their back yards. A recent effort, the LYFT 3E’s Roadmap helps students explore the many opportunities they have for “What’s next after high school?” Students are guided through EXPLORATION of their skills, EXPOSURE to local career opportunities, and gain valuable workplace EXPERIENCES. Students are learning first-hand that good-paying job opportunities DO exist in rural Minnesota!
Having facilitated strategic planning for the Kandiyohi County & City of Willmar Economic Development Commission for the past two years, I was pleased to support their efforts to respond rapidly with pandemic relief programs for businesses and nonprofits. The EDC did an amazing job of quickly developing a clear process to secure local, state and federal funding and distributed $4.5 million dollars to over 400 businesses and nonprofits in under 9 months.
Their collaborative and inclusive approach is truly inspiring: 61 different diverse businesses received 105 grants/loans and over 85% of the businesses that received Cares Act or Minnesota Pandemic Relief funds were businesses the EDC had not previously worked with! Not surprisingly, the top 3 priorities that emerged in their 2021 planning session were Business Support, Broadband, and Workforce Development.
The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition is a diverse membership group who come together as one unified voice for increased and ongoing public and private investments in ensuring all Minnesotans have the essential broadband infrastructure needed to thrive now and into the future. What a unique opportunity to work with this group at a time when the pandemic elevated the need for broadband. Their work is so important and far from done. Having a clear vision, mission, and membership structure, their collaborative efforts will continue to have wide-reaching impact across Minnesota. Keep an eye out for new membership opportunities on their web site soon!
The SW Minnesota Private Industry Council - Workforce Development Board gathered input through facilitated discussions and in-depth interviews with employers and stakeholders in the region who overwhelmingly identified finding viable/qualified applicants as their number one concern. With increasingly tight labor markets and a growing scarcity of workers, as well as individuals leaving the labor force due to COVID safety concerns and being needed at home to care for school-age children, innovative workforce development strategies are essential. Growing partnerships between local school districts and businesses to increase the awareness of local career pathway opportunities and helping students/job seekers make informed decisions through the Know Before You Go campaign are just two examples of their innovative approaches to workforce development.
This is just a snapshot of the great people I’ve had the pleasure of working with to help our rural communities bounce back and continue to thrive following the pandemic. Through all the challenges of 2020, it is clear that rural Minnesota IS turning challenges into opportunities!