Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton visited Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical on Wednesday to discuss job creation strategies for industries in the Winona area, his second stop on a statewide tour focused on economic development.
Dayton sat in on a panel of local politicians and business and education representatives, where he heard concerns about economic expansion, education for workers, and ways to bring more jobs to Winona.
The 12-person panel included representatives from Fastenal, PlastiComp, and Winona State University. Mayor Jerry Miller, Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, and Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, also sat on the panel.
"We have jobs here in Winona," said Tim Borkowski, Fastenal's vice president for manufacturing. "What we need is skilled laborers and engineers who are qualified for those jobs."
"We know that one of the greatest assets to economic growth is well-educated citizens," Dayton said. "Job creation is the antidote for the problems faced by the state of Minnesota."
Jeremy Miller thanked the governor for paying attention to job growth in the region across Minnesota.
"Government does not create jobs," said Miller. "What we can do as elected officials is create policies that stimulate job growth."
After hearing from panel members, Dayton listened to concerns from some of the approximately 120 audience members.
Iraq War veteran Scott Metcalf said veterans returning home often struggle to find jobs that fit their skill sets without additional training. When he returned from Iraq, he said, his military education credits didn't transfer to Minnesota colleges and he had to look out of state.
"We're going backwards," Metcalf said. "How can you tell me that someone who spent 20 years in the military can't get a job washing dishes?"
Mike Brown, president of the student senate at Southeast Technical College, said students have a hard time finding jobs that pay well enough to make their education feel worthwhile.
Brown headed back to school after losing his job in 2008, and said he fears that even after continuing his education, he may not be able to find work that will pay as well as his previous job.
"Students don't feel they're being rewarded for their work, and we're losing students because of that," Brown said.
Ed Hoffman, owner of Ed's No Name Bar, said his largest concern when starting a small business was health insurance.
"It's hard to find affordable plans for individuals," said Hoffman. "How can we make health insurance more available to small businesses?"
Dayton said he would look at the issue from a policy standpoint and give Hoffman feedback.
"We don't want to prevent people from taking risks like you are and starting small businesses," said Dayton.
After his Winona visit, Dayton headed to Rochester, Minn. on Wednesday afternoon to continue the discussion on economic growth in southeast Minnesota. He plans to end his statewide tour with a job summit in St. Paul in October.