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Ward: Jobs should be Job No. 1

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, touted the DFL jobs plan at a news conference at Central Lakes College, maintaining that job creation and retention should be the Legislature’s top priority.

Appearing with Ward was Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul. Also part of the event were officials from comments related to jobs and job training from representatives of the college, the Brainerd Lakes Chamber and the Brainerd School District, who made comments related to jobs and job training.

Noting the city of Brainerd’s chart-topping 13.3 percent unemployment rate in December among cities with more than 10,000 people, Ward praised Bridges Career Academy and the Workplace Connection, joint programs involving the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, CLC and 24 area school districts. He also noted that people are surprised when they learn the Brainerd High School students have been simultaneously earning their high school and CLC associate in arts degrees.

“We’re not sitting,” Ward said. “We’re moving forward.”

The governor’s jobs plan features a $3,000 tax credit for each unemployed Minnesotan, veteran or recent graduate hired in 2012; a $775 million bonding bill and $10 million in additional funding for the Minnesota Investment Fund which attracts businesses to locate or expand here.

In addition, DFL legislators are proposing Bridge to Work Minnesota, a wage supplement program for unemployed workers who take part in on the job training; Buy Minnesota, which gives a tie-bid preference to Minnesota businesses and products and access to capital for small business expansion.

Mahoney, a pipefitter by trade, told of how some of his friends in the construction industry have lost their homes.

“Jobs should be our priority,” he said.

Both Mahoney and Ward defended Dayton’s job tax credit of $3,000. Mahoney said it’s not easy to determine whether an incentive program will be successful until it’s tried. Ward said he believed Gov. Rudy Perpich tried a similar program that was well received and widely used.

“We need to try to provide incentives and opportunities to our small businesses and support them,” he said.

Contacted later Friday, Republican lawmakers Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, and Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, said they wanted the Legislature to find ways to help the private sector move forward. Gazelka said DFL Gov. Mark Dayton expressed interest in further permit reforms. Gazelka said he wants to lower business taxes and address the higher property tax rates businesses pay compared to homes.

LeMieur said many of the DFL proposals are “Washington, D.C.-style” tax-and-spend programs that don’t address needed reforms businesses want. He said he would take a look at DFL proposals to increase funding for the Minnesota Investment Fund.

CLC President Larry Lundblad described the success of the Post Secondary Educational Options program.

“We’ve got to get out there and be our own cheerleader,” he said.

Kelly McCalla, CLC dean of liberal arts, said CLC recently graduated 43 students who were also receiving their high school degrees. He praised the partnerships between the college, school districts and the Brainerd Lakes Chamber.

Becky Picciano, CLC director of secondary relations, said Bridges Career Academies and the Workplace Connection offer work-based learning opportunities featuring technical skills, foundational skills and business and industry experiences.

“The learning is very active,” she said. “It’s very engaging.”

Lisa Paxton, CEO of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, said more than 2,000 students have had job shadow experiences through Workplace Connection and more than 2,400 students have attended a Career Exploration Day.

Brainerd School Superintendent Steve Razidlo said education officials are trying to help “shorten the loop” between a child’s aspirations and a connection to the workplace. He said the high school now has an Introduction to Manufacturing course and a workplace readiness ACT certificate.

Also addressing the crowd of two dozen or so spectators was Mary Sam, the college’s chief diversity officer; Rebecca Best, dean of Workforce Economic and Regional Development; and Greg Bergman, regional director of the Minnesota Small Business Development Centers.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at 855-5860 or

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860