Every Minnesotan has been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve all had to make changes to our lives to fight this coronavirus. Many people have become sick or had loved ones infected. And more than 1,750 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19.
The truth is, many more Minnesotans would have been stricken with the virus if it weren‘t for how we’ve all come together to do what’s necessary to save lives. And businesses and workers have been at the center of that effort.
At the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, or DEED, we’ve seen the economic impacts of COVID-19 as we work with business, labor, and community leaders throughout Minnesota to navigate this pandemic and plan for continued economic recovery. Businesses have changed operations to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and Minnesota’s workforce has done so much to look out for our colleagues and customers.
All of this has come at a cost.
A primary area of focus for our agency is supporting the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who have lost work or had their hours significantly reduced. Economic data shows that Northeastern Minnesota is right behind the Twin Cities metro region for the highest percentage of unemployment insurance applications in the state, at 29.9% of the workforce.
We know people who’ve lost work are suffering. Staff in our unemployment insurance office are working hard to ensure payments get to Minnesotans as quickly as possible.
Of course, what unemployed Minnesotans want most is to safely get back to work. That’s why DEED is helping to connect people who need work with firms that are hiring. There are about 60,000 jobs posted in Minnesota right now — and we are here to help people find them.
Along with our workforce partners, DEED is helping Minnesotans secure new jobs that have promising career paths. Our dedicated CareerForce staff members are helping Minnesotans get ready for work through one-to-one job-strategy sessions, online resume writing and interview workshops, virtual career fairs, and more.
The pandemic has required us to offer our services in new ways, but we aren’t letting it stop us from serving the rising numbers of job-seekers in the region.
We’re also working to help small businesses. Last March, we opened a Small Business Emergency Loan Program, merely two weeks after the first impacts of the pandemic were first being felt in Minnesota. These loans helped 121 businesses in Northeastern Minnesota affected by temporary emergency shutdowns this spring. In all, regional businesses received $3.2 million in loans, which are 50% forgivable.
One thing the pandemic has made abundantly clear is that reliable high-speed internet access isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Business owners and families alike have relied on access for everything from meetings to distance learning. Not having broadband access isn’t only an inconvenience; it can reduce a person’s ability to work and hamper a student’s learning. DEED’s Border to Border Broadband Program grants are targeted toward nonmetro Minnesota communities where broadband infrastructure is not at the level needed to support economic opportunity. Since 2014, the Border to Border Broadband Program has invested $108 million across Minnesota through 140 projects, which have connected nearly 50,000 homes, businesses, farms, and community institutions. Those who’ve benefited have included 10,426 Northeastern Minnesotans.
I’m looking forward to my upcoming visit to Duluth as part of a series of visits in an economic-recovery listening tour. During this critical time, I’m honored to work with Minnesota’s business and community leaders to serve our fellow Minnesotans. I look forward to hearing what we can do better — together.
Steve Grove is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.