Immigrants drive state economy, chamber said | News, Sports, Jobs

Staff photo of Clay Schuldt Speaking at a New Ulm Chamber of Commerce luncheon, state chamber Speaker Jennifer Byers said only the presence of foreign immigrants has prevented labor shortages and kept the general population of the state.

NEW ULM: A net loss of internal migration has had a negative impact on the state’s workforce, a director of the Minnesota Chamber Foundation told the audience at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday.

Jennifer Byers was one of the speakers at the Hot Topics luncheon hosted by the Business Education Network at the New Ulm Country Club.

She said current demographics are not on Minnesota’s side, saying the state has seen a loss in the workforce since the 1990s as more people leave the state than move from other states.

“If it weren’t for (foreign) immigration, we would be a losing population,” Byers said. “Immigrants are really important to the growth of the economy.”

The pandemic damaged the economy, he reported. Minnesota has begun to rebuild, but labor shortages persist. Only three sectors of the economy have recovered jobs lost due to the pandemic; construction, education, and professional scientific and technical services.

Large employment gaps remain in manufacturing, commerce, health care and other sectors. Approximately 200,000 open jobs exist in Minnesota. Overall, unemployment has dropped to 2.7%.

The number of people looking for work has also decreased. Many people have retired or dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic.

The availability of child care is another factor, he said.

Byers said there was an increase in new business filings, but four out of five of these new businesses have no interest in expanding. The person who starts the business is the only employee. Often, they have left a different job to become self-employed.

Byers said the Minnesota Chamber’s efforts are focused on building local business education networks. Many communities in Minnesota have local BEN groups. No two BEN groups are the same as different communities have different needs, but Byers recommended that employees get more involved in business education.

“When students have relationships with employers, they can really understand career opportunities,” she said.

Connecting employers with schools and exposing students to job and career opportunities can help align skills with local needs.

The new Superintendent of Ulm Schools, Jeff Bertrang, gave an overview of BEN’s activities since 2018. Bertrang confirmed that BEN is run by companies, but the school would partner with employers. Programming, including CEO-in-the-classroom and teacher-in-the-workplace programming, began in 2019 but was halted during the pandemic. Bertrang said the district is trying to restart the teacher-in-the-workplace program.

The Career and Technical Education Center began operations last fall. There are 440 students taking a class at this facility. Bertrang said the center has been a great collaboration with business and the public.

The school is also addressing the nursing shortage by partnering with Allina Health. There are already students in certified nursing assistant training.

Another speaker, Wendy Anderson, is a new business consultant for New Ulm. She has been consulting businesses for over a decade and helps people looking to start or expand a business, or people transitioning out of business and looking to sell a business. Her consulting services are provided through the City of New Ulm.

Paul Wessel gave a brief update on the status of the New Ulm Economic Development Corporation. He recently took over as director. He said NUEDC was formally called New Ulm Industries and has been in business since the 1950s. Wessel said the organization has been dormant for a few years and needs to be revamped. NUEDC will be renamed the New Ulm Business Resource and Innovation Center (NUBRIC).

“Our goal is to help grow, build and sustain businesses in New Ulm,” Wessel said. “We are tapped into a global network of venture capital, mezzanine financing and angel investment networks.”

The BEN committee was formed in 2018 to focus on common goals of strengthening the workforce and connecting students to careers in high demand in our community.

The committee halted efforts during the COVID pandemic, but is beginning to ramp up again. BEN is looking for additional Business Representatives to participate.

This was the first hot topic luncheon organized by the New Ulm Chamber in two years due to the pandemic.

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