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Paul Moe, executive director Minnesota Job Skills Partnership, Jim Johnson, president Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical, and Gary Evans, CEO of Hiawatha Broad Band Communications sign an agreement Dec. 14 celebrating the receipt of a $200,000 MJSP grant designed to provide training in to state-of-the-art equipment labs.

HBC, Southeast Tech land $200,000 grant

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A $200,000 grant will boost Hiawatha Broadband Communications and give Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical a new curriculum niche.

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The Minnesota Department for Employment and Economic Development recently awarded the grant under its Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership. Southeast Technical will train 140 HBC workers, DEED said, starting with 35 people to maintain licensure as power limited technicians. Riverland Community College will assist with the licensing classes.

The training will begin in January. Lessons from lean manufacturing methods will be one key component, according to Callie Ekblad with Southeast Technical's work force training division.

"All of their employees will be trained 'lean.' Initially on the fundaments -- why we streamline processes, how we look at a production line's every step -- and then how to find efficiencies at blockages and stopping points," Ekblad said.

"This is just a tremendous opportunity for us to strengthen our work force," HBC chief operating officer Jerry Olson said.

The curriculum will focus on three areas: fiber optics, lean concepts and licensing. All will help HBC grow, he said.

"We're increased our staff so much we're desperate to get them up to speed and licensed," Olson added.

HBC has jumped in the past year from about 60 employees to well over a hundred. Olson anticipates further growth.

The rub, however, has been finding qualified workers. And those interested who wanted training had nowhere local to get the knowledge they needed to work with fiber optics. The 18-month grant will go a long way toward resolving concerns, Olson of Red Wing said.

Most of the training will take place at Southeast Technical's Winona campus, Olson and Ekblad said. Since HBC is expanding its Red Wing network and will move ahead with Lake City's infrastructure in 2012, the company's local work force will benefit, they said.

So will the college's course offerings. Ekblad said that a fiber optics laboratory and equipment would be expensive to establish without the grant.

DEED Commissioner Mark Phillips agrees.

"The training will improve efficiency at Hiawatha Broadband Communications and contribute to the growth of the business," Phillips said in a prepared statement. "In addition, the grant will allow the college to develop new fiber optics courses and lab to serve other communications businesses in the region."

Based in Winona, HBC serves 14 southeastern communities, including Wabasha and Plainview.

Ekblad said HBC came to the college with the idea. The college joined in the grant application. Now HBC will help develop the curriculum.

"It's a good partnership," Olson said.

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Anne Jacobson
Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 
(651) 301-7870
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