It’s been a year of unprecedented challenges for Minnesota’s economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the health and livelihoods of many Minnesota workers, and businesses have had to pull back or adapt their operations to keep Minnesotans safe.

As we head into fall, our state will grapple with the uncertain trajectory of the virus, the challenge of educating our kids in new ways, and the impending changes in weather, which affect so many economic conditions. The Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is working hard to help businesses and workers through this difficult time.

That’s why I’m stopping in Rochester on Friday, as part of a statewide economic recovery tour, to meet with local business leaders, workforce development staff and others and hear how Rochester is managing through this unprecedented time – and how DEED can help.

In the Rochester area, not surprisingly, the pandemic’s effects on the health care industry are having the biggest impact on employment. In the Southeast Minnesota region, 17.5% of continued unemployment claims are in health care, higher than for any other occupation in the region.

At DEED, one of our top priorities is supporting the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who have lost work or had to change careers during the pandemic. That's why our agency is focused on helping people find in-demand jobs and gain the skills they need for positions that are open now. On CareerForceMN.com/JobsinDemand, we regularly update information about jobs in Minnesota, including wages, educational requirements and links to current postings.

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Along with our workforce partners, such as Workforce Development Inc. in Rochester, DEED is helping Minnesotans secure new jobs that have promising career paths. Our dedicated CareerForce staff help Minnesotans prepare for work through one-to-one job strategy sessions, online resume writing and interview workshops, virtual career fairs and more.

And thanks to a new partnership with Coursera, any Minnesotan can take online college classes for free – earning valuable certifications and credits to help transition to new careers.

For those who are searching for work, our Unemployment Insurance office is focused on getting payments to Minnesotans as quickly as possible. We were the first state in the country to deliver on all three of the federal government unemployment insurance add-ons, and we just finished dispersing six weeks of Lost Wages Assistance benefits to hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans.

DEED recognizes that the key to getting people back to work is doing what we can to help businesses adapt and expand operations while maintaining safety. Last March, we opened a Small Business Emergency Loan (SBEL) program, just two weeks after the first impacts of the pandemic were first being felt in Minnesota. These loans helped 85 businesses in southeastern and south central Minnesota affected by temporary emergency shutdowns this spring.

In all, regional businesses received $2,011,030 in loans, which are 50% forgivable. State emergency funding is a complement to funding from the federal government, which has much larger resources than the state does.

Lastly, we’re working to help the next great companies start in Minnesota, through our startup ecosystem program, Launch Minnesota. Since January, six Rochester area startups have received funding through Launch Minnesota Innovation Grants. Supporting promising startups now will help position Minnesota well as we move into economic recovery – and could help us launch Minnesota’s next home-grown Fortune 500 Company. We want promising businesses to know Minnesota is a great place to start and grow a business.

I’m honored to work together with Minnesota’s business and community leaders to serve our fellow Minnesotans during this critical time as we navigate the pandemic and plan for continued economic recovery.

Steve Grove is the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development