The Maker Space, an area where people can have access to engineering and manufacturing resources, on the Minnesota State College Southeast Red Wing campus was a more than appropriate setting for the roundtable discussion held on Nov. 27.
The discussion brought community leaders ranging from business owners, educators and the mayor together to talk about how the college can better their partnership with the city.
In attendance was Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra, who said from the start that he was there to listen and learn.
Malhotra is going around to the 37 institutions under the Minnesota State umbrella for more discussions on how they and communities can better work together.
By Malhotra's side was state Sen. Mike Goggin, R-District 21, and Interim Southeast President Larry Lundblad, with all three taking notes on what community leaders would like to see.
Issues of a lack of affordable housing in Red Wing, continuing to support the recent passing of a two-question referendum in the Red Wing School District and having the campus have more specific programming to help businesses in town find employees to name a few topics.
Red Wing School District Superintendent Karsten Anderson said he identifies three barriers to a successful partnership between the college and district - having consistent programming, helping develop career readiness efforts possibly through a MNSCU grant, and helping increase liability protection for local businesses to create internships for high school students.
"Our success will beget success for the college and vice-versa," Anderson said.
Anderson continued by saying the college has the full support of the district.
Also in attendance were Marie Summers and Stacy Augustine from Treasure Island Resort & Casino. Summers, the human resources director, said they currently have 150 positions open at the largest employer in the city. She suggested college classes related to hospitality and culinary careers would help fill major needs in their company.
Augustine said recruiting people from outside the area is difficult due to a lack of affordable housing. For example, the casino recently hired a housekeeper who now commutes from Winona to work every day.
Malhotra said he recognizes the issues facing Minnesota in regards to unemployment and finding quality, experienced candidates to fill those roles.
"As the anxiety levels generally rise, both among the policymakers and the employers, there are beads of sweat around my neck, too," Malhotra said.
As of October, the state's unemployment rate is at 2.8 percent, according to the Employment and Economic Development Department. The nationwide average is 3.7 percent.
There are help wanted signs hanging in local businesses windows, many pointed out during the discussion.
People like Patty Brown, the executive director for the chamber of commerce, try to help those who have varying levels of experience create and open businesses in town. In addition, Brown said having Red Wing students stay and work in the community is a high priority.
Katie Hardyman, director of business relations for the college, said she works closely with businesses developing programming and helps people who are incarcerated in the Adult Detention Center have a chance to earn college credit and receive certifications. When inmates leave the correctional facility, they can have a leg up on other potential employees for the work.
For ADM Plant Manager Bill Simmons, he enjoys the "connectedness" the city has between all of the institutions.
"You look how much work is being done together as a community," Simmons said. "For me, it's really eye opening and very exciting thing that make Red Wing stand out from a lot of other communities."
Simmons said he's met with the college and district on many occasions, with them asking Simmons what his company needs out of future employees.
Having students see that manufacturing isn't an unsafe, low-paying job is important, according to Simmons. The former president of the Red Wing Area Manufacturers Association continued by saying they're getting the chance to expose high school students to those potentially greatl career opportunities.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Goggin said his parents always told him that, "you can never go wrong with a good education."
With that in mind, Goggin said people need to find their passion in life and having the referendum pass helps students get a chance to see what the passion could possibly be.
"I think it's incumbent upon us to help our future generation to find out what gets them out of bed in the morning, what gets their juices flowing and what gets them motivated," Goggin said.
Malhotra, thanking all of the people in attendance, said, "It's very clear to me, in the last hour as I was listening to all of you, how special Red Wing is."