Grove-Malecha-Folsted

DEED Commissioner Steve Grove, left, talks with Rice County Galen Malecha, center, and County Administrator Sara Folsted Monday during an Aug 26 luncheon with officials from across the county to discuss its struggles and opportunities with economic development. Among the issues local companies have: a shortage of skilled workers. (Daily News file photo)

A manufacturer of commercial heating and air conditioning units in Faribault is so hard-pressed to fill jobs at the booming company that it is considering busing workers from the metro area to its facilities 40 miles south.

Down Interstate 35 in Owatonna, an insurance company is so desperate for new employees that it has invested in a 54-unit downtown apartment building, hoping to attract job candidates.

And in the nearby city of Lonsdale, a local cabinetmaker started purchasing homes to rent to potential employees in the hope of luring them to town.

All across Minnesota, employers are taking steps to address a deepening statewide worker shortage. Job vacancies are near record highs, and the number of unfilled positions now exceeds the number of people looking for work, forcing employers to think outside the box to attract employees.

It’s a good problem to have, economists say, reflecting a robust economy. But the risk? A continuing job shortage could limit the state’s economic growth.

“We used to have a stream of daily applicants, but we’re not seeing that nearly as much,” said Matt Alexejun, senior human resources director at Daikin Applied, the Faribault heating and air conditioning unit manufacturer. “It’s a challenging hiring environment. So we have to look for creative and unique ways to attract talent.”

The worst-case scenario: Businesses leave Minnesota for places with more workers.

“This is the issue of the moment,” said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. “Workforce shortages inhibit growth. And economies have to keep growing for wealth to increase. You either increase production through automation or increase it from additional workers and workforce growth. If we don’t do that, expansion will happen elsewhere.”

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