As Minnesotans from around the state stream into the Great Minnesota Get-Together every year, they likely walk right past an unassuming, low-slung, brown 1960s-era building on Como Avenue. What they don’t likely know is the important work that happens in that old building every day.
An independent nonprofit called the International Institute of Minnesota is housed there. It helps new Americans achieve self-sufficiency through job training, English language classes and other services that help them achieve full, taxpaying membership in American life.
As our state faces the COVID-19 crisis, we see every day the incredible need for health care workers. The institute has been training them. Back in the early 1990s the institute recognized that many immigrants and refugees arriving in Minnesota were doctors and nurses in their home countries — and they wanted to continue working in health care in Minnesota. At the time there was no clear entry path for immigrants into the health care sector, so the institute developed one.
Today, more than 2,800 immigrants and refugees are working in Minnesota’s health care industry as nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, thanks to the institute and the talents of those they serve. And the demand for this, and many other types of training, grows every day — so much so that the institute is at physical capacity. We have toured the facility and know additional space is needed.
For Minnesota’s economy to grow, our workforce must grow. As the baby boomer generation is retiring, labor needs for our state will be an ongoing challenge. New Minnesotans are a huge part of the solution. In 2017, 97% of Minnesota’s new labor force growth was foreign-born. This workforce investment is an opportunity that the Institute is committed to seizing. As they have done over the past 100 years, they’re committed to empowering new Minnesotans to help build our future economy.
We and other members of the Minnesota Legislature are sponsoring a bill to help the Institute create an expanded center for its Medical Careers Pathway and other workforce programs. It invests in the economic engine of our state by creating new jobs, and a labor force at both entry and advanced levels. As we see during this crisis, immigrants are providing us health care, food service, construction and other front-line work that is essential to our state.
The case for the $5.5 million investment from the state is clear. Private donors have already stepped up and committed $5 million into a matching fund for the project. An addition design has already been developed. This is truly a shovel ready project — one that will provide good paying construction jobs now, and a new facility in which to train future workers for the state.
These are unprecedented times. We may not know what the immediate future has in store, but we do know that the demand for health care and worker development will continue to grow. International Institute of Minnesota has contributed greatly to that effort and as legislators we are going to be working on a bipartisan basis to ensure this project receives the funding it desperately needs to meet demand from the communities.
Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, is a member of the Minnesota House.