As a way of providing resources to businesses in the area, West Central Economic Alliance has hosted weekly virtual coffee talks for 10 weeks. The workforce landscape has seen immense changes, according to Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program, Inc team leader Darla Hoemberg in the June 22 meeting.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CareerForce center has worked with clients over Zoom for resumes and career opportunities as well as virtual career fairs with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“It’s really changed a lot,” Hoemberg said.

One of the challenges Hoemberg has seen throughout the pandemic is people’s access to computers and the internet. She is glad to partially reopen as of June 22, allowing people to schedule one hour appointments for computer use in the career lab for job searching or filling out unemployment applications. Before entering, masks and temperature checks are encouraged.

Hoemberg is uncertain when unemployment meetings will resume, though 99.9% of the calls during the pandemic have been about unemployment. The center aided with people’s questions, though it remained difficult to fully answer the questions since they are not an unemployment office.

People also inquired about the ability to work part-time and receive the $600 enhanced unemployment payment from the federal government.

“I’m a little scared of that $600 and us here because that hopefully isn’t going to keep people from going out into the work world and going back to work,” Hoemberg said. “I hope people realize that the $600 is not going to last forever and that they go to work.”

Within a 25-mile radius of Wadena, Hoemberg said there are currently 131 full-time jobs and 23 part-time jobs awaiting employees, according to Minnesotaworks.net.

She also anticipates a continued workforce shortage in the area, including in the hospitality industry where jobs are often part-time or a lower wage.

“I don’t foresee an influx of people coming from somewhere,” Hoemberg said.

In the fall, Hoemberg expects changes to Wadena County’s low number of dislocated workers, or a person laid off or soon to be laid off to no fault of their own according to DEED. Hoemberg said CareerForce has retraining funds available.

The center offers on-the-job training and incumbent worker training with possible costs covered for employers. Other programs for high school students include career assessments, apprenticeship discussions and providing options for students to directly begin work.

The CareerForce center is located at 124 SE 1st St. Suite 2 and is normally open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 218-631-7660 for questions.

DEED Grant Program

A new grant program for businesses opened on June 23 with $60.3 million in $10,000 increments available to small businesses, according to Minnesota DEED West Central business development representative David Heyer. The grant will cover items such as working capital expenses, payroll, rent, mortgage and utility bills, according to Heyer. The applications are open until July 2 at 5 p.m. with the following eligibility requirements:

  • The for-profit business must have a permanent physical location in Minnesota;

  • Have a majority ownership by a Minnesota resident;

  • Have 50 or less employees;

  • One application per business.

Businesses who received Small Business Emergency Loan Program funds are not eligible for this grant but businesses who received funds from any of the Small Business Administration emergency loan programs are eligible, according to Heyer and the DEED website. The applications will be placed into a lottery system and businesses will receive notification about two weeks after July 2. From the $60.3 million, 50% is going towards Greater Minnesota and 50% towards metro areas, according to Heyer.

The online only application can be accessed on mn.gov/deed/business/financing-business/deed-programs/relief/.