Enterprise Minnesota cohosted an event in Rochester designed to highlight the dynamic growth opportunities for manufacturing in southeast Minnesota. Other hosts were Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. and Journey to Growth, a regional economic development project.
Bob Kill, Enterprise Minnesota’s president and CEO, presented the findings of the 2018 State of Manufacturing® survey (SOM), which was followed by a panel discussion of local manufacturing executives.
“It was an invigorating event with knowledgeable and insightful back and forth,” says Lynn Shelton, Enterprise Minnesota’s vice president of marketing. “The manufacturers emphasized the shortage of workers—skilled and unskilled alike. They appeared very willing to engage local technical colleges but also local public schools. They see the value of starting with middle school students and younger.”
While the event was designed for manufacturers only, many attendees invited legislators, educators, and economic developers as their guests, according to Shelton.
“The lesson is, as always, that we’re stronger when we work together. But to work together you have to be together,” Shelton says. “And meetings like this represent a terrific start.”
She says the meeting reminded her of ten years ago, when Enterprise Minnesota unveiled the State of Manufacturing as part of a “nexus” strategy that sought to give manufacturers greater connectedness to each other and to community leaders and policymakers. She remembers observing that Minnesota’s manufacturers—especially small and mid-size—disdained “politics” and were content to merely greet policymakers at the monthly chamber meetings, but otherwise focused on efficiently making and aggressively marketing their widgets.
Shelton thinks the crash of 2009 may have helped change this mindset. As Enterprise Minnesota conducted its first round of focus groups and released the results through community outreach meetings, Shelton says, “We saw that manufacturers, educators, policymakers and civic activists became increasingly aware of the importance of their relationships.” Enterprise Minnesota uses the SOM to try to keep that coalition alive.
“The event was as important for the fact that we had it, as for the subject matter. Manufacturers need to identify themselves as Minnesotans, but also identify by their regions. The challenges and opportunities manufacturers face can differ dramatically by location.”