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Will Rochester be able to attract enough workers?

Rochester's innovative Destination Medical Center plans have grabbed the attention of state and national observers — but it is not the only economic development initiative on the minds of stakeholders in Southeast Minnesota.

More than 400 representatives of the region's business, workforce and education fields gathered Tuesday for the Southeast Minnesota Economic Forum at the Rochester International Events Center, an event hosted by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Merchants Bank.

Keynote speaker Tim Penny, president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation , encouraged collaboration between regional entities as educators respond to workforce needs and business development works to attract and retain talent in the region.

"Obviously, everyone is buzzing about the Destination Medical Center, but that's just one piece of the economic activity that's going on here," Penny said. "Today's conference is to focus on the totality of the opportunities. This is really about all of us sharing with one another what the potential is, and then sharing ways to work together."

In a panel addressing the region's economic challenges and opportunities, speakers cited a workforce shortage, wage pressure and difficulties in recruiting young talent to jobs in the area.


"Workforce is a huge issue. It's very difficult today to recruit and get people excited," said Andy Chafoulias, CEO of Rochester-based Titan Development & Investments.

Chafoulias said he and other business leaders are searching for ways to attract young professionals, engage them in the workplace and pique an excitement for young people to invest in the community.

Wage pressure is another factor in Southeast Minnesota but not the only factor in retaining talent, said Susan Savat, chief financial officer of Merchants Financial Group Inc. and Merchants Bank.

"It's not all about wages for (Millennials) — this is really about making that difference and being part of the organization," Savat said. "Changing that mentality of bringing them in and really listening to them I think is going to be critical for people to retain them."

Penny saw opportunities for workforce development in partnership with schools.

"We have to do something to connect with these kids before they even leave high school and get them on a track with the skills they need to succeed in our southern Minnesota workforce," he said.

Partnership and collaboration were themes throughout the conversations at the forum, along with Destination Medical Center plans that have dominated economic development discussions.

"For DMC to be successful … it's really all about partnerships, and it has been about partnerships," said Lisa Clarke, DMC Economic Development Agency executive director, as she gave an update on DMC plans to the crowd.


DMC will share some of the same concerns stakeholders expressed, including attracting a sufficient workforce.

"In 2016, we're going to embark on one incredible marketing effort," Clarke said. "When we talk about marketing, we're actually talking about bringing in talent, like we've all talked about; workforce is going to be critical"

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