Gov. Walz offers unexpected messages about state’s manufacturing

This column originally appeared during October, 2019  in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers, including but limited to the  Star News, published in Elk River, Minnesota.

Gov. Walz offers unexpected messages

about state’s manufacturing

Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink had some unexpected messages for students, families and businesspeople when they visited an Anoka County manufacturing company on Manufacturing Day, Oct. 4.

Gov. Tim Walz, Commissioner of Labor & Industry Peggy Leppink, & Mayor John LeTourneau. (Photo by Joe Nathan

Walz and Leppink have been traveling around Minnesota, meeting with leaders in business and manufacturing to learn about the challenges in those sectors and how the state can help. The governor and commissioner concluded that progress requires work simultaneously on four things:

— Greater student and family awareness of attractive jobs and careers in manufacturing.

— Closer educator-employer partnerships and more welcoming, encouraging attitudes in some schools to include all students in manufacturing and other applied, technical courses.

— More promotion of, investment in and markets for Minnesota manufacturing companies.

— Many more affordable homes and apartments for people who want to work.

Leppink shared one of the day’s most startling stories. She described difficulties she had enrolling in a drafting class when she was a high school student in Two Harbors. She recalled being strongly discouraged from taking that class: “I had to get double-extra permission!” Even after she enrolled in the class, which she really enjoyed, her teacher did not make her feel welcome.

She insisted that applied, technical classes must welcome all students. I agree.

Leppink also pointed out that Minnesota has more than 330,000 jobs in manufacturing. They pay 15% above the average Minnesota wage.

Walz strongly agreed with Leppink. He wants every Minnesota student to be welcomed in career and technical courses. Given the many well-paying, satisfying jobs in these areas, Walz explained that he’s encouraging his own children as well as other young people to consider technical careers.

“I’d be delighted, for example, if my 12-year-old decides to be a plumber. We need lots of great plumbers,” Walz said.

He also pointed out that working in a manufacturing company might lead to having a new idea – and starting your own company.

Walz and Leppink emphasized that for manufacturing to thrive, Minnesota needs better housing, education and business climates.

As they traveled the state, these leaders heard repeatedly, especially in greater Minnesota, that there’s a huge need for more affordable housing.

John LeTourneau, mayor of Ramsey and director of manufacturing for the Anoka Area Chamber, responded that they are reaching out constantly to K-12 schools to help young people understand opportunities that are available in manufacturing and other fields.

Finally, Walz and Leppink emphasized that they are learning from businesses. For example, they want to help expand markets for Minnesota companies. Walz recently visited Japan, seeking investments in and markets for Minnesota products.

All of this delighted Shawn Larkin, sales and customer service manager for Safety Speed Manufacturing, which hosted the Oct. 4 event. Larkin showed me the company’s machines that produce, with human guidance, huge saws, ranging in price from about $2,000-12,000.

Shawn Larkin and one of Safety Speed’s products (photo by Joe Nathan)

LeTourneau offered a summary that I hope many families and young people will consider:

“Today a career in manufacturing means that an individual can do exciting, world-changing work in an interactive engaging environment, buy a house (and/or real nice truck!), start a family, live in the community they grew up in and do this with zero school debt.”

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome,