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Lena Smith skybox

Lena Olive Smith was a prominent civil rights lawyer and activist in the ‘20s and ‘30s. She made major contributions toward securing civil rights for minorities in the Twin Cities after becoming the first African American woman licensed to practice law in Minnesota in 1921.

Free training prepares Daikin candidates for manufacturing world
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Working at Daikin Applied requires knowledge of manufacturing, but a 2018 needs assessment suggests employees need more than orientation to acquire those tools.

Employees indicated in the assessment that they enjoyed their jobs but wanted more training before working the plant floors. Daikin listened, and now, prospective employees for the company’s Faribault and Owatonna locations can enroll in a free community training program before they even submit their application.

The pilot program, a 40-hour training, takes place from Feb. 22 to March 5 at the Faribault Education Center and South Central College Faribault campus. The opportunity applies to anyone with a high school diploma or general educational diploma (GED).

“Daikin reached out to Community Education about a year ago because they find it challenging to retain their staff, and it’s most likely because the staff they hire don’t have the skills they need,” said Faribault Adult Education and Enrichment Coordinator Cassie Ohnstad.

George Chapple, Daikin professional training manager, observed the knowledge gap firsthand.

“I took it upon myself to go into a couple of sessions of orientation, and about 65% couldn’t identify basic hand tools and what they were used for,” Chapple said. “From that standpoint, we would like to see people coming in already with that basic knowledge.”

Chapple has two types of Daikin candidates in mind for the training program. The first group consists of individuals who want to apply to Daikin but first want more experience in manufacturing. The second pool might include candidates who already presented strong resumes with prior experience in other working environments, like retail, but otherwise lack the manufacturing skills needed at Daikin, which manufactures commercial air conditioning units.

Adult students who enroll in the training will acquire skills in five key areas. A blend of Daikin employees and Community Education instructors prepared lessons on manufacturing basics, hand and power tools, reading blueprints, precision measurements and electrical wiring. In future training programs, Chapple also wants instructors to present an entire unit on brazing, the practice of using high temperatures to join metals together.

While it won’t be offered for the pilot training program, brazing is a topic Daikin Training Coordinator George Chapple wants employees to introduce to prospective workers in the future. Pictured, a Daikin employee brazes pipes on an air-conditioning unit. (Photo courtesy of Daikin Applied)

Since Daikin wants to offer the training continuously, Ohnstad encourages anyone interested to get on the waiting list. At least five need to sign up in order for Community Ed to offer the program, she said, and four already signed up as of last week. During the coronavirus pandemic, the two locations have capped the number of participants at five to allow for social distancing.

The training does not guarantee employment, but Daikin will offer phone interviews to those who complete the training. Hired workers will start with production line and sub assembly jobs at $18.38 per hour, and Chapple said they may receive more training in specific areas after getting through the door.

A level one evaluation will follow the first training, Chapple said, to give participants a chance to offer feedback on the training’s length and content. The instructors will then adjust the program as necessary for the next group of participants.

Through the training program, Chapple hopes Daikin partners see the benefits of investing in the local community and notice the correlation between keeping individuals employed and helping a community grow. After being at Daikin for three years, Chapple said he’s impressed that the company supports his innovation in developing employees for community success.

“At the end of the day, we want people to be proud of where they work,” Chapple said. “… When they tell others they work at Daikin, I hope they say it’s a company that invests in its employees and the community where they work.”

Deanna Kuennen, director of community and economic development for the city of Faribault, says Daikin is a leader in identifying workforce pathways for individuals, which she considers a benefit to the community as a whole.

Faribault’s progress in affordable housing, secured with three separate developments being completed over the course of this year, could in turn benefit Daikin. Kuennen had promised in December 2020 to use the resources of the city’s Economic Development Authority to deliver affordable housing, understanding that families want to work in areas where they can afford to live. Daikin, with its increased need for workers, made the need for affordable housing more dire.

“I’m super excited that Faribault seems to be leaps and bounds ahead of others as it comes to workforce development,” Kuennen said. “I know our Chamber is doing some amazing things in connection with our industries, South Central College and the high school, and then I know that our industries such as Daikin are doing things that will specifically help them in the long run but have a broader impact on the community.”

New executive director to lead Blooming Prairie Chamber
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Blooming Prairie businesses have a new energetic advocate.

Emily Glaser, a resident and small business owner, recently accepted the role of executive director of the Blooming Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce.

Glaser will organize and champion for community growth by supporting financial investments in the local business community, promoting commerce and helping build a sense of pride in the area. While she is new to the Chamber, she says she is looking forward to working with experienced Chamber members to collaborate to improve the local business community, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“I look forward to getting to know all the business in town — large, small, industrial, manufacturing, retail, restaurants, daycares, education and everything in between. Each business brings their own unique character to this town and should be highlighted for their uniqueness,” she wrote in a post on the Blooming Prairie Area Chamber’s Facebook page.

Glaser and her husband Ryan have lived in Blooming Prairie for about three years. They have a nine-month-old daughter, Kymberly.

“We really like the small community,” Glaser said. “My husband and I both graduated with 500-plus and we didn’t want to for our children.”

With family in Owatonna, Rochester and Minnetonka, the Glasers decided to settle into the small city of Blooming Prairie. They believed it would provide a great place to raise a family. Blooming Prairie schools are the “perfect size” while providing quality education for their family, Glaser said.

With about one week of experience as the Chamber executive director under her belt, and some training from longtime former executive director Becky Noble, Glaser is now off on her own ... well kind of.

“There are a lot of people willing to help with the transition. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it alone,” Glaser said, adding that she is looking forward to getting to know the local business owners better.

As a business owner herself, Glaser has first hand knowledge of what it takes to run a business in the area. She runs Just Because Bakery, a small cottage food business from inside her home. The bakery offers a variety of treats, cupcakes, cookies and cakes for any occasion. Thus when she isn’t in the Chamber office, she can be found baking away at home. Those interested in her baked goods can find out how to place an order by visiting her business Facebook page.

Through her experience as a business owner, Glaser brings her social media expertise and organizational skills. She said she hopes to keep the Chamber’s online platforms up to date, adding that she’d like to post the Chamber’s weekly newsletter on Facebook so others can stay in the know.

United Way Campaign fulfills all Steele County commitments

After a tremulous year for people everywhere, the need for help to get out of crisis has never been greater. Though the financial uncertainty many faced left nonprofits depending on donors in uncharted territory, the Steele County community has once again proven where their priorities land.

“We knew there were people displaced from work and probably wouldn’t be able to donate this year, even if they normally were regular donors,” said Annette Duncan, president of the United Way of Steele County. “What we found, though, were those who were able to retain work and still able to give gave more than they have ever given before.”

At the end of the United Way Campaign, Duncan announced that every commitment UWSC made to their partner agencies will be fulfilled thanks to the generous donations of individuals and businesses in the community. Though the campaign goal of $800,000 was not met, Duncan said they were shy by only $20,000 – more than enough to provide the commitments made to the various nonprofits in the area that provide crucial services to those in need.

“This community steps up time and time again to make sure that everyone has what they need and cover for those who can’t help until they are once again able to – then they too will pay it forward,” Duncan said. “Steele County is always paying it forward to make sure we have what we need to fill the needs of our community.”

Reaching 97% of the overall goal, the campaign brought in a total of $779,201. While a couple thousands of dollars continued to come in after the cutoff for the 2021 campaign, Duncan said they will put that money toward next year so they can continue to fill those commitments made every year.

Though the goal wasn’t met, Duncan said they were able to bring in almost the same amount of money as they did the previous year. In fact, this is the third largest campaign year for UWSC since 2007. Considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Duncan said this is an extremely monumental accomplishment.

“Generally speaking, rural United Ways in Minnesota did not do so well – a lot of our counterparts around us kind of struggled and had to try to get creative with how they were allocating funds,” Duncan said. “Not everyone was as fortunate as we are here in Steele County where we are able to make every single commitment without cutting back.”

Duncan said the funding their partner agencies receive from UWSC is more important now than ever as many are reporting an increase in first-time users of their services. Because of the successful campaign, Duncan said they are able to help these nonprofits meet the increased need.

“Asking for help is really not an easy thing, especially when you’ve never had to,” Duncan said. “It’s one thing with generational poverty, which is a reality in our community, but for individuals who hadn’t had to experience that before to have to ask for help for the first time, that’s a struggle in and of itself. Had they been rejected or turned away because of difficulties with funding, they probably would have completely stepped back and said they would figure it out some other way and in turn their situation would have gotten worse because there really isn’t another way.”

With COVID-19 causing everything to change, Duncan said it put UWSC and their corporate campaign leader Wenger Corporation in a unique situation to think outside the box and revamp an already successful process. Duncan said the end result adapted the way business internal fundraise even better and that she is looking forward to continuing forward with some of the new things they have learned.

“Wenger was super successful in getting people engaged, even though they were a hybrid set up with so many people working virtually,” Duncan said. “They really paved the path for other campaigns in the future.”

Additionally, Duncan said UWSC say 325 new campaign donors this year on both the individual and business level – another element assisting in fulfilling the commitments to partner agencies providing crucial services.

“Think about it – what are those programs in place for? To help people transition out of crisis,” Duncan said. “Last year that is what it was all about all the time: crisis. People found themselves in situations they never could have fathomed, we all experienced something we never thought we would in our lifetime. But the community came together and decided to help keep that safety network there to help get others back on track. That is what it’s all about.”

Though the campaign has come to an end, Duncan said their work is far from over. With never ending projects and the need for help only growing, the UWSC staff and volunteer team hasn’t skipped a beat. In the near future, Duncan said they are working on their “Volunteers United” program that will help connect volunteers to opportunities in the area, as well as several other behind-the-scenes projects.

“Even when you don’t see us, we’re there and we’re doing something,” Duncan said. “And the work we are doing is important.”