Immigrants bolster state economy, chamber told

Staff photo by 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 a workforce shortage and maintained the state’s overall population.

NEW ULM — A net loss of domestic migration has exerted a negative impact on state’s workforce, a director from 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 lunch hosted by the Business Education Network at 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 due to more people are leaving the state than moving from other states.

“If not for (foreign) immigration we would be a loser population,” Byers said. “Immigrants are really important for growing the economy.”

The pandemic hurt the economy, she reported. Minnesota has begun to rebuild, but the labor shortage remains. Only three sectors of the economy have recovered jobs lost from the pandemic; construction, education and professional scientific and technical services.

There remains large employment gaps in manufacturing, trade, health care and other sectors. Roughly 200,000 open jobs exist in Minnesota. Overall, unemployment is down at 2.7%.

The number of people seeking work has also dropped. Many people retired or left the workforce during the pandemic.

Childcare availability is another factor, she said.

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

Byers said the efforts at Minnesota Chamber are focused on creating 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 employees be more involved in business education.

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

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

New Ulm Schools Superintendent Jeff Bertrang gave a summary of BEN activities since 2018. Bertrang confirmed BEN is being led by businesses, but the school would partner with employers. Programming, including the CEO in the classroom and teacher in the workplace programming, was started in 2019 but was paused during the pandemic. Bertrang said the district is trying to start the teacher in the workplace program again.

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

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

Another speaker, Wendy Anderson, is a new business consultant for New Ulm. She has consulted with businesses for more than a decade and helps people looking to start or expand a business, or people who transition out of the business and are looking to sell a business. Her consulting services are provided through the city of New Ulm.

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

“Our goal is to help grow, build and sustain businesses in New Ulm,” Wessel said. “We’re tapped into a global network of venture capitalist, 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 with high-demand careers in our community.

The committee paused efforts during the COVID pandemic but is starting to ramp up again. BEN is currently looking for additional businesses representatives to get involved.

This was the first Hot Topic Lunch hosted by the New Ulm Chamber in two years due to the pandemic.


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