Congressman Pete Stauber, R-Duluth, stopped at the Wadena Depot to share workforce development, housing and health care updates with time for a few questions from local leaders on Feb. 21.

He joined the leaders in rows of chairs after meeting the eight community leaders who attended. Stauber has been a congressman for 13 months and shared his reflections on the divisiveness of the American capitol and how rural voices are equally as important as metro voices.

“We matter,” Stauber said to the group. “Those of us who live in rural Minnesota, rural America, we don’t take a backseat, we must not take a backseat. Our voices are just as important, no more, no less, than somebody in the metro area.”

Within the discussion on workforce development, Stauber noted the shortage of workers “in almost every industry” and how job opportunities from two-year and technical colleges need to receive emphasis and dignity. Stauber also shared personal experiences, including about his time as a police officer in Duluth where he saw impacts from the lack of stability in housing. He said across the nation, the focus is on “opportunity zones” where economic drivers are as well as opportunities for public-private partnerships. By having stable housing, health, schools, families and communities are impacted, according to Stauber.

Throughout the time, Stauber encouraged and thanked local leaders for their involvement in the community. His last topic was health care, including Medicare for seniors with legislation that questioned why the rebate for medicine goes to the middle man, or the pharmacy benefit manager in his example, instead of the consumer. The bill would change this to the consumer getting the rebate. Stauber shared the bill was ruled out of order in the Rules Committee because of politics.

The questions began with Tri-County Health Care vice president and chief financial officer Kim Aagard with comments on the importance of the 340B Drug Pricing Program and the mental health crisis that would benefit from tele-health visits for their psychiatrist to reach more clients. Stauber said he is in support of both.

Aagard also shared about the hospital building project and their challenge in gaining access to Hwy 10 from 11th St. Aagard questioned if the Hwy 10 project could be moved up and what funding might be available for the hospital. With the problem of federal funds for a local highway, Stauber said the situation is tricky and he has seen good results with abatement.

Wadena Economic Development Director Dean Uselman continued the trend of infrastructure and transportation questions with a general inquiry into funding. For the transportation bill, Stauber mentioned “the elephant in the room” as the pay force, to which a gas tax idea has been talked about. Stauber hopes for long-term investments and sees workforce development and transportation coming together on this since the infrastructure projects require the workers.

Uselman added the challenges of the length of time and receiving funding in changing the five miles of Hwy 10 that are two lanes. Uselman shared about economic and safety issues, such as car crashes in the area and his experience as a firefighter when a car struck the slow sign he was holding about five weeks ago. On these types of projects, Stauber wants government and local leaders to act as advocacy representatives that will support the project and take scrutiny for issues.

Wadena-Deer Creek school board member Kent Schmidt was grateful for the discussion on technical school opportunities for students because jobs outside of four-year college opportunities need to be filled, such as plumbers and electricians.

“You never know where somebody is going to flourish,” Stauber said to the group.