Rochester, MN’s Education and Business Communities Collaborate
Education and business leaders collaborate to meet growing workforce demands.
Under most circumstances, an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent would be cause for celebration, but in Rochester, where job growth is outpacing the population, officials aren’t quite ready to break out the champagne. While Rochester is a modestly sized city of 110,000, the Mayo Clinic brings in more than 2 million visitors each year, and the hospitality industry and building trades are working overtime to catch up.
Rochester’s In-Demand Positions
“Our fastest-growing industries would certainly be the trades, the building trades as well as hospitality. Part of the challenge is this city hosts about 2.8 million visitors each year, but the workforce serving those visitors is only about 12,000 full-time employees,” says Rob Miller, president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce. “We need to have a large amount of hotels and places for these folks to stay – not only patients of the Mayo Clinic, but caregivers and traveling members of family, etc. We have lots of new hotel projects that have opened and more on the way. We definitely need a workforce to fill those roles.”
Miller projects that in the next five years, the workforce will need to grow to around 14,000 to fill demand. This rapid growth, he says, will take thinking outside the box.
“We have to be creative,” says Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I think the immediate concern is how do we take advantage of our youth, as well as early retirees who don’t want a full-time job, and bring them into that workforce.”
Educational Career Pathways
CTECH – the Career and Technical Education Center at Heintz – opened in 2016 to introduce high school students to technical and vocational careers. CTECH offers courses in seven career pathways, including industrial trades, such as welding, hospitality, nursing and information technology. Students enlist in a dual-enrollment program, completing part of the coursework toward a certificate or associate’s degree at their high school and the other at the CTECH campus.
“Within the CTECH program, there is a hospitality curriculum, so we’re hoping to engage our high school kids interested in those careers. Part of that is also educating the schools about the hospitality industry and the opportunities that exist,” Jones says. “Our community and technical college is also adding a hospitality curriculum for the first time, so we’re creating a hospitality-focused pathway for students through high school, through early secondary and hopefully soon through a four-year degree.”
Rochester’s efforts to cultivate homegrown talent also show in the city’s burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem. Accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces, such as the Mayo Business Accelerator at the Minnesota BioBusiness Center, Collider Core co-working space and the Rochester Area Foundation give entrepreneurs and startups the resources they need to grow and help keep this creative talent within the city limits.
Recruiting New Talent
Miller says the city has also focused workforce development efforts on recruiting talent beyond its borders. Representatives from the Chamber, the city, the county, the Mayo Clinic, Destination Medical Center (DMC) and Journey to Growth (J2G) worked for more than a year to develop a central website, hubworks.mn, that will serve as a virtual front door for workers and employees.
“If you have Rochester or Southeast Minnesota in your sights and you want to know what the climate is for workforce development, you will be able to go to this site,” Miller says. “If you are a job-seeker looking for work, an employer offering internships or mentorships, a student looking for an internship or a job-shadowing experience, or if you are a recent grad wanting resume help, you can go to this site.”
Miller says a key to increasing the city’s workforce is to tout Rochester’s quality of life effectively.
“I think part of what we really have to try to do is to change the narrative,” he says. “Certainly, the cost of living is very attractive. The four seasons are terrific. If you are interested in outdoor sports here, I don’t know of too many other places you could go that would afford you all of the options that we have here in Minnesota. We have a world-class heath care facility here, and we have a fair amount of cultural things here – theater, the arts. Really, we have the best of everything here.”
Part of the challenge is this city hosts about 2.8 million visitors each year, but the workforce serving those visitors is only about 12,000 full-time employees.