Second District Democratic candidate Angie Craig hosted a round table discussion Friday, Oct. 26 on workforce development in Shakopee, where she heard from area politicians, industry representatives, labor leaders and child care experts.
“I want to learn from each of you,” Craig told the group at the Scott County Workforce Development Center.
The discussion ranged from child care to transportation to education, all critical components to a strong work force, those in the room said. While unemployment is low in Minnesota and across the nation, child care costs, housing and transportation issues continue to challenge working people.
“We have employment at record highs, but we have the challenge of finding housing for the workers who want to take those jobs, we have the challenge of finding child care for people who may have those jobs,” Craig said.
Child care is a massive expense for working families in the 2nd District, where infant care comes with an average price tag of $17,000 per year, according to Clare Sanford with the Minnesota Child Care Association. And all that money doesn’t result in well-paid child care providers, she said. Because there needs to be a small ratio of adults to children in such settings, child care providers aren’t paid much.
“We need more public investment in birth to five,” she said, adding that 98 percent of state investment goes to K-12 education.
Craig asked if any communities or states are doing better than Minnesota, and if so, what are they doing. Sanford said the federal government should do more to fund child care to low income families. She noted Louisiana has implemented tax credits for child care providers to help improve the industry.
Russel Hess with the Minnesota and North Dakota Laborers Union said they are trying to get more workers into the trade, and child care is a huge challenge to attracting women to the field.
Luke Palen, president of aluminum recycling company Spectro Alloys in Dakota County, said despite an increase in automation, his company is still having problems finding all the workers they need. Recently, the company increased wages to try to get more laborers on board. Most of his employees travel 10 to 30 miles for work.
Palen said many jobs at his company and others pay well, but don’t require a four-year degree. He believes high schools should do more to help students understand that. Craig agreed.
“I think we have done a disservice to students in our high schools by not making sure they understand the various career routes available to them,” Craig said.
Former Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke, who is running for District 55A in the state House, said it took strong partnerships to expand job opportunities.
“It was really important to us that we focused on allowing people to both work and live here in town,” Tabke said.
Tabke touted the Shakopee High School CAPS Academy, which gives students an opportunity to get job training and credits at community college, as a model to be replicated.
Hess said the Laborers Union has its own education center, so while someone might start on highway jobs, they’ll learn how to build skyscrapers, weld and other construction skills. If they can get people to show up and work hard, they’ll provide the skills training.
Craig joked that she was scarred by her experience crossing the Minnesota River on Highway 169, and asked what the federal government can do to address transportation in the area.
Phil Qualy with the SMART Transportation Union said the county is well served by rail services for industry, but should push to get light-rail to come to Shakopee once it expands to Eden Prairie.
“I believe expanding the Southwest Light-Rail system to Shakopee would be a long-term wise goal,” he said.
Qualy also asked Craig to support the rights of workers to collectively bargain.
Ryan Timlin, president of the Amalgamated Transportation Union Local 1005, said expanding light-rail and buses, especially electric buses, would be good for transportation. Right now, there’s an operator shortage, but there is an apprenticeship program for new drivers that is having success.
Child care and housing are issues for members, but Timlin said increased transportation investment is needed for not just light-rail but buses. He said the state needs to find a dedicated source for transportation funding that’s not connected to buying a car.
Tabke spoke about the importance of adding new Bus Rapid Transit Lines from Shakopee to Minneapolis. He said adding more lanes to bridges will never be enough to solve the issue and more options are needed.
“That is going to be key in helping to solve the problems,” he said.
Craig, who is in a tightly contested rematch fight against Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, thanked the group and promised to fight for the district if elected.
“I want to see America invest in its infrastructure, and I want America to invest in its people again, because that’s how you create true economic growth for a nation that is long term and sustaining, and it’s also how you create a better life for a lot of people,” Craig said.