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Jobs, housing, high-speed Internet for outstate MN highlight DFL plan

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For residents of small towns and rural areas in Minnesota it can be hard to find a job, hard to find training for the jobs that are available, hard to find a place to live, and even hard to get a decent Internet connection.

Several DFL lawmakers proposed a package of bills Wednesday that would address those issues. They say the state needs to invest in workforce training, housing and infrastructure in outstate areas to strengthen their economies.

One of the group, Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said it's essential to encourage young people to settle down in those small towns, according to MPR News.

“What we’re really trying to stave off is ... the migration from rural Minnesota into the metropolitan area which, those of us in northern Minnesota understand, has been catastrophic almost in the last 25 years,” Saxhaug said.

A recent report proves the point: Rural counties outside an area roughly bounded by St. Cloud, the Twin Cities and Rochester are poorer and older. In 12 counties, half the population is 65 or older.

Here are some highlights of the $227 million package introduced Wednesday:

  • $27 million to hire more career counselors at nine workforce development centers
  • $50 million in tax credits to spur construction of housing for workers
  • $40 million in grants to small communities for infrastructure that would help local businesses
  • $15 million for a new job training program specifically for rural Minnesota
  • $100 million for high-speed Internet expansion in underserved areas

You can see the complete proposal here.

As MPR News notes, it's another effort by lawmakers to pay more attention to issues of concern to rural Minnesota. Republicans won control of the state House in last November's election primarily by accusing Democrats of ignoring those issues.

Republicans are also pressing to increase funding for nursing homes, which is another big concern for smaller outstate communities. And while the state budget has a projected $1 billion surplus, many other proposals are being put forward to use that money.

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