A group of community leaders is exploring the feasibility of Anoka Technical/Anoka Ramsey Community College, as well as other colleges like Pine Technical College or St. Cloud Technical College, bringing some post-secondary education to Princeton and neighboring towns.
Three professional and workforce training specialists from Anoka Tech and Anoka Ramsey Community Colleges – Jamie Barthel, Nick Graff and Steve Jones – discussed the idea Nov. 13 at Princeton City Hall.
Also present were Rebecca Perrotti and Cristy Thomas with the Central Minnesota Jobs & Training Services Center in Cambridge, Princeton Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman, Mille Lacs Community Development Coordinator Richard Baker and Mille Lacs County Commissioner Genny Reynolds.
A “glaring” fact in Mille Lacs County’s new comprehensive plan is that there is no college presence in the county, Fuhrman said. This was one catalyst for talking about where a college presence could be established in the county to assist local industries in finding skilled workers, she indicated.
Another push to explore this, according to Baker, is the Princeton Economic Development Authority recently looking into it. The Princeton EDA is the leader among all cities in Mille Lacs County in this, he said.
Fuhrman and Jones earlier this year had been looking into the possibility of Anoka Technical College starting an adult-education horticulture class at the Doug Marshall Farm located west of the Princeton Airport.
Those plans became inactive after the horticulture teacher at Anoka Technical College left the college, according to Jones. He said that the instructor had the skills to make something like that happen and now, with changes at the college, that position will not be filled.
Baker said Mille Lacs County needs more educational training opportunities. According to Baker, 14.7 percent of Mille Lacs County residents age 25 and older have a four-year college degree. That is below the state average of 31.8 percent, he said.
Reynolds suggested that if it were too costly to set up a course, such as welding, to supply the needed welders in one local city, maybe there could be a regional training center. Then maybe different places could donate equipment to set up the training facility, another attendee at the meeting suggested.
Everyone at the meeting agreed that to entertain an idea like that, industries and businesses have to be surveyed to find out what job vacancies they have and what skills are needed to fill them. Another consensus was that the survey has to be very specific, for example, asking what exact type of welder a company is looking for, since there are different kinds of welding.
Graff, Jones and Barthel agreed to help develop such a survey. Baker said the survey questions might be ready in early December.
Joe Glenn of Princeton-based Glenn Metalcraft, has talked in the past about wanting to see more training happen in the local area to fill jobs that his and other industries might have.
Today’s manufacturers need people with such skills as automation where they can program computers to run factory robots, Glenn said. He said he has had to resort to hiring “headhunters,” people who search for people with skills to fill vacancies. That can cost tens of thousands of dollars, Glenn said.
“It was a great meeting,” Baker said. Right now it is all exploratory, he added.