County HRA approves funds for chamber project

Contributing Writer

An Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce project to help local students prepare for manufacturing careers has received funding from the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

The HRA, which comprises the seven members of the Anoka County Board, unanimously approved Sept. 26 entering into a partnership with the chamber in which it will participate in chamber’s manufacturing cohort program to the tune of $10,000 for the rest of this year and another $10,000 in 2018.

Action by the HRA came after John LeTourneau, chamber director of manufacturing, made a presentation on the chamber’s project to the HRA’s Management Committee Set. 12.

According to LeTourneau, the chamber began discussing the long-term challenges of manufacturers and ways to address them through collaboration, communtiy and resources.

In an interview, LeTourneau said that the chamber found that having a workforce ready to fill manufacturers’ needs was a top priority and a manufacturers coalition, or cohort, was formed.

It is an active organization, some 100 members strong, that meets regularly and has both regional and local representation, he said.

The coalition’s mission is “to become a catalyst for strengthening community manufacturing, accelerating transformation into a more efficient and powerful engine of innovation, job creation and economic growth,” LeTourneau said.

According to LeTourneau, 2015 statistics from the Minnesota Department and Economic Development (DEED), there were 118,000 jobs in Anoka County, of which 22,000 or 19 percent were manufacturing, but the average wage for the manufacturing jobs was $79,600 compared with the average wage of $50,000 for the other jobs.

“That’s a considerable difference,” LeTourneau said. “Manufacturing is an important segment of the community.”

While identifying several issues, the chamber cohort decided to focus its attention on creating a workforce pathway to get high school students prepared for jobs in the manufacturing sector, he said.

The chamber and the alliance worked closely with Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 staff to develop and implement a new curriculum, called Design and Fabrication, in the district’s five high schools (Anoka, Andover, Blaine, Champlin Park and Coon Rapids) this academic year (2017-2018) to replace one that was many, many years old, LeTourneau said.

The school district “has been amazingly receptive,” collaborative and open to adapting to change, he said.

Lots of voices and perspectives were brought to the table, including people at DEED, LeTourneau said.

“I think this is a pretty big deal,” he said. “High school students are really going to be prepared for the workforce setting once they graduate.”

Anoka Technical College is also involved in the cohort partnership for a career pathway for post-secondary students, LeTourneau said.

The workforce planning project, with its many facets, can become a model and the goal is to establish it at the junior high level to create a career pathway for those students interested in a manufacturing career, according to LeTourneau.

And the chamber will be looking at expanding the manufacturing cohort program on a broader, regional basis to other school districts, LeTourneau said.

It has also drawn the attention of Sixth District Congressman Tom Emmer, he said.

“We will build on it as we go forward,” LeTourneau said.

HRA members were enthusiastic about the manufacturing cohort. “It’s a very interesting program,” said HRA Chairperson Scott Schulte.

The chamber’s collaboration with District 11 will make sure there is a quality manufacturing workforce in the future, according to Schulte.

Trustee Matt Look was also fully supportive of the program and the HRA’s funding, he said. It is “very impressive,” Look said.

The program is a “great opportunity” to get students on a career pathway, not only locally, but also regionally, according to Trustee Rhonda Sivarajah, Anoka County Board chairperson.