By ANNIE GRANLUND / Owatonna Peoples Press / southernminn.com / firstname.lastname@example.org / Dec 7, 2021
It has been more than three years since Owatonna has had a local workforce development office, making it difficult to connect people who are unemployed or looking for a career change with the many local opportunities throughout the area.
That all changed this October when the Workforce Development Center reopened in a new location. Though the center has been helping individuals for nearly two months, it wasn’t until last week that they were back in “full force,” according to the Area Manager Mike Postma.
“Opening up again for appointments has really kept our career planner busy,” said Postma. “We have had less foot traffic, as far as people just dropping in, but we haven’t really been advertising that option, because we weren’t all set up yet inside. We spread the word with some of our local partners, but we wanted to kind of open slowly so we weren’t hit hard all at once.”
For the local business community, though, the reopening of the office is something to be celebrated.
When the center first closed in April 2018, the administrative team made it clear that it was due to a reduction in public resources, not a drop in demand. While the focus of the centers throughout the state had shifted from unemployed people to under-employed people, the centers continue to see an increase interest in work-based training, apprenticeships, internships and mentorships.
During the last year, the center was open at Riverland College in Owatonna, 464 individuals enrolled in the program to receive a variety of services. The number reflects those who had enrolled in the Dislocated Worker program, the Steele County Out of School Youth program, the Steele County In-School Youth program, and the job club attendees.
This number, however, does not include walk in customers who used the resource area, met with a counselor, inquired about job postings, and a variety of other in-person services.
Brad Meier, president of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism who was one of the biggest advocates in securing state funding to reopen a local center, said he heard first hand how missed the local office was in town.
“What we continued to hear from people is that if they wanted to access the resources they had to go up to Faribault, which isn’t the end of the world, but it definitely less convenient,” Meier said. “Often times, transportation is already a hurdle for them, so if you have to drive somewhere to get that resource then we have a problem.”
Moving across town
The center’s new location is on Austin Road on the south side of town, which Postma said they are ecstatic about the location. Not only is it easily accessible, with ample parking and along the bus route, but the office is located inside the same building that houses the United Way of Steele County.
“We already partner with them for other things,” Postma said. “Now we are right in the same building, we are just the next office over.”
Meier said the two organizations becoming neighbors makes sense for a number of reasons, but especially because of the crossover that tends to happen among the people both agencies serve.
“The United Way already works with a lot of nonprofits that are here to service people who may need just a hand up to help them move forward,” he said. “That is a great fit for who our Workforce Development Center will help, as well.”
A bright future
Postma said he sees nothing but good things in the future for the workforce in Owatonna now that important resources are once again within everyone’s reach.
“My hope and what I see as the future for us is that we really form partnerships between our organization and the folks looking for the opportunities, as well as the business and education partners who have them,” he said. “It sounds so simple, but sometimes people have a hard time making those connections, even if they know what they’re looking for. We can help make those matches.”
Though the center will often work with people who find themselves unemployed, Postma strongly suggests that anyone living in the Owatonna area consider taking full advantage of all the center has to offer.
“In my lifetime of doing this work, there has never been a better time to be a job seeker,” Postma said. “The opportunities, pay, flexibility is all available and in your favor, so if you haven’t reconsidered your career path in awhile, not is a great time to do so and to stop in.”
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT CENTER
The Workforce Development Center has relocated to 1850 Austin Road, Suite 102, in Owatonna.
Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Call 507-333-2088 to make an appointment.
Walk-in hours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.