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Job, tax plans might benefit rural Minnesota

ST. PAUL -- Rural Minnesota businesses could hire more employees and afford to stay in the state with some extra state help, some lawmakers say.

Minnesota legislators have introduced plans to create an internship program, offer special business tax credits and pay for some employee training in greater Minnesota, all aimed at strengthening the rural economy.

Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said his proposed internship program would help young professionals realize there are career opportunities in rural Minnesota.

His program would provide business tax credits helping companies pay college interns up to $4,000 each.

"We're trying to keep more young people in our communities and help employers as well," Eken said.

The up to $11 million requested for the program in the next two years would cover about 2,400 internships, Eken said. The students must get academic credit for their work as well as being paid.

"It'll give them reasons to stay," President Bruce Ahlgren said of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

Rural Minnesota cities still are recovering from the recession, said Ahlgren, also Cloquet's mayor. He said internships were among the first things businesses dropped to keep afloat.

Another proposal is aimed at helping companies struggling to find the right applicants fill jobs, bill author Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said.

"What we're hearing from businesses is they can't find qualified people," he said. "This is about creating a training program that will be nimble enough to meet the needs of the economy and employers."

He proposes reimbursing businesses for some employee training costs. Eligible companies must pay employees at least $13 an hour by the end of their first year and be located outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Tomassoni said the measure is focused on high-skill jobs.

"I think it's a pretty creative way of doing this," he said.

Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, proposed a broader plan she said would not only bring in new jobs, but also will help businesses stay in greater Minnesota and retain jobs. It would replace the Job Opportunity Building Zone program.

Jensen would give rural Minnesota businesses some sales and property tax exemptions when they expand or come to the state and offer income tax credits based on pay and the number of employees, encouraging new hires.

"We need tools in greater Minnesota," President Barry Wilfahrt of the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce said.

He said there are business incentives in neighboring North Dakota that can draw companies away.

Jensen said while there are other job and economic development programs in the state, she wants some specifically focused outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

"I'm not willing to just sit back and cross my fingers this (other) legislation will work in rural Minnesota," Jensen said.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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