Rural Minnesota task force crosses party lines to find solutions

By KBJR News 1

August 27, 2014 Updated Aug 27, 2014 at 6:12 PM CDT

St. Paul, MN (NNCNOW.com) - While construction crews are working to restore the outside of the capitol building, inside, a group of lawmakers is working to get a better understanding of the problems facing Greater Minnesota.

On Wednesday, the newly created rural Minnesota Task Force heard concerns on everything from workforce development to healthcare.

"It's not that the jobs aren't there, but we don't necessarily have trained workers to fill them," Bradley Peterson with the Coalition of Greater MN Cities told lawmakers.

"In a survey that we did last year, 14 percent of our members reported having to suspend admission to their nursing homes at some point due to less than adequate staff," Kari Thurlow, the senior vice president of advocacy for Aging Services of Minnesota, told lawmakers.

The task force, made up of eight DFL and GOP Senate lawmakers, believes a one-size fits all approach doesn't work for Greater Minnesota.

"The saying here at the Capitol, is many times, 'it's not party line division, it's metro vs. rural'," said Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont).

Sen. Rosen, who leads the group along with Senator Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), says lawmakers need to take a serious look at the differences between rural communities and the metro area.

"The demographics in rural Minnesota are that of getting older, so they are exacerbated by the fact our nursing homes aren't doing that well. That isn't a problem that is in the metro right now," said Sen. Saxhaug.

That division is getting noticed by the stakeholders involved in the discussion.

"There's a small and shrinking understanding by metro legislators of the culture and economics of greater Minnesota," Dan Larson with the MN Rural Counties Caucus told lawmakers.

Sen. Saxhaug says the task force isn't an indication rural areas aren't being heard, but improvements can be made.

"We're leaps and bounds ahead of our surrounding states. However, there are things we can do better. Rural Minnesota now is faced with relatively good economic times. They will not continue that way if we don't get housing for our workers and training for our employees," Sen. Saxhaug said.

The rural legislative task force is expected to consult with neighboring states to find solutions for housing and workforce development at its next meeting in September.

The group expects to meet a few times this fall and turn issues into legislation during the 2015 legislative session.

Kevin Jacobsen
Twitter: KevinJacobsen