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Legislators follow state money on tour of CLC, CTC

Lawmakers from the Minnesota House of Representatives toured Central Lakes College and Consolidated Telephone Company on Friday, both recent recipients of taxpayer money designated to help boost the economy.

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Vice Chair of the Greater Minnesota Economic & Workforce Development Policy Committee Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, (center-left), and Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, the committee's minority lead (center-right), tour the welding shop at Central Lakes College on Friday. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch

Lawmakers from the Minnesota House of Representatives toured Central Lakes College and Consolidated Telephone Company on Friday, both recent recipients of taxpayer money designated to help boost the economy.

Members of the Greater Minnesota Economic & Workforce Development Policy Committee, including Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, chair, Steve Green, R-Fosston, vice chair, and Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, minority lead, took part in the tour. Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, also attended the stops.

At CLC, the legislators met with local business leaders and Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce who were partnering with the college to connect students with manufacturing jobs and training.

The Bridges Career Academies & Workplace Connection featured prominently in discussions, with employers and CLC staff pitching the legislators to help fund the program. Bridges aims to help students figure out what job they want, and to help train them to do it. Career Academies are a series of career-oriented classes that start in high school, and the Workplace Connection involves job shadowing, internships and career fairs.

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"It's (Bridges Career Academies & Workplace Connection) really a model that can be replicated throughout the state." CLC President Larry Lundblad.

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Twyla Flaws of Clow Stamping said the Bridges program was surviving on grants, but since grants can expire, it needed steady funding from the Legislature in order to keep going.

CLC President Larry Lundblad echoed her call for funding, saying other, as-yet uncreated programs across Minnesota could be patterned after Bridges.

"It's really a model that can be replicated throughout the state," he said.

Lundblad said CLC was part of an $800,000 appropriation the state made during the last legislative session. CLC's piece of the state funding went to on-the-job training for manufacturing positions.

"They were pleased to hear that their investment is paying off," Lundblad said of the committee.

The legislators next took a tour of Consolidated Telephone, where they heard about its efforts to expand broadband into new rural areas in Fort Ripley and Fairview Townships south of Brainerd.

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The company received a hefty grant for the project from the state's Office of Broadband Development. However, CTC staff said a state grant requirement that required them to pay workers a prevailing wage-or, a wage similar to what others pay-had actually impeded the project and burnt up half the $2 million grant because of labor costs. Grantmakers unfairly conflated wages in CTC's operating area with wages in the Twin Cities, resulting in unduly high wage requirements, they said.

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CTC staff said a state grant requirement that required them to pay workers a prevailing wage-or, a wage similar to what others pay-had actually impeded the project and burnt up half the $2 million grant because of labor costs.

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"We could have expanded the (project) area if we could have used more local or regional wages," CEO Kevin Larson told reporters afterward.

Larson said CTC had applied again for another state grant, and they expect to hear in November whether they will be awarded the money or not.

Heintzeman said he and his fellow lawmakers need to examine the grant process.

"They could have gone further without the grant," Heintzeman said. "This issue can only be resolved at the state level. The Legislature has to look at this and determine what we can do to at least make this regionally flexible."

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ZACH KAYSER may be reached at 218-855-5860 or Zach.Kayser@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZWKayser .

Related Topics: STEVE GREEN
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