In the largest city in Chippewa County, last week, Oct. 10, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn) visited Montevideo and was taken on a “Rural Economy Tour.” During the driving tour, Smith was escorted by Montevideo City Council President Nathan Schmidt, City Administrator Robert Wolfington and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Luther Heller, who guided her through the city and stopped at three different businesses, The Dryer Doctors, Montevideo Family Dentistry and American Surplus.
The goal of the visit, according to Smith, was to see what is or isn’t working in rural communities like Montevideo and how she can help. “I have had a chance to visit so many small towns in Minnesota and I am always impressed by the creativity and energy I find in these cities. So I have a special goal in coming to Montevideo to really understand what is working in this community and how I, as a senator, can support the good things that are happening here,” she said.
At each of the locations, Smith introduced herself to the owners and managers of the businesses. She asked them about their particular businesses and what issues they are seeing being a business in rural Minnesota.
At the first stop, The Dryer Doctors, Smith met with one of three partners of the business, Joshua Bauman, along with office manager Amy Clausen.
According to Bauman, he took Smith on a tour of their facility and she asked him questions about his unique business, including things like what areas do they serve and how has their economic growth been like. For the answers, Bauman said, they serve all of western Minnesota and expand to all of eastern North Dakota and South Dakota; and because of the shear amount of farmers in the area combined with their specialized grain dryer service, The Dryer Doctors have grown very well since they started in 2017.
Another important aspect Bauman and the senator spoke about was how The Dryer Doctors had used governmental programs to help them get started. According to Smith, The Dryer Doctors are a good example of how the federal and state governments have worked together to create economic opportunities. “It’s important for Minnesota to have strong regional organizations who can connect local entrepreneurs with federal programs and opportunities. These relationships are critical to lifting up communities,” Smith said, seeing The Dryer Doctors are a prime example of this.
During the stop at Montevideo Family Dentistry, Smith met with Keith A. Olson D.D.S. After introductions, Olson thanked the senator, as a member of the United States government, for the capital grant funding his dentist clinic was able to procure for the expansion of their practice to move to their new facility, at 629 Legion Dr. Suite No. 2.
The two also talked about the challenges out there with providing healthcare, including dental, in rural communities. Olson asked Smith if there was anything she could do at the legislative level to alleviate the hindrance of access to healthcare in rural areas it would be much appreciated.
At the last stop, American Surplus, Smith talked with manager Brett Drexler. Jeff Drexler, Brett’s father, started the business and still owns American Surplus while Brett manages the day-to-day operations.
Like at The Dryer Doctors, Smith asked Drexler about the business, including how many workers are employed and if they have any issues in finding or maintaining a quality workforce.
According to Drexler, American Surplus has approximately 170 employees. He also told the senator, they have been lucky enough to have had very little turnover in the last few years as they have developed a quality working crew. However, one issue Drexler did tell Smith is how his employees do have a hard time finding proper childcare in the area, a very common problem found throughout rural Minnesota.
Smith was glad to hear how American Surplus has been fortunate to have the employees they have, but that is not the case with many rural businesses. According to Smith, workforce development has been a high priority for her and seeing through her “Rural Economy Tours,” she has been able to witness first-hand how important skilled workers are to the success of a business. “Businesses in Montevideo, like many around Minnesota, want to hire more people, but they’re having trouble finding workers with the right skills. We need to make sure Minnesotans get the training they need to fill open jobs,” Smith said.
Once the tour was over, Smith believes she was able to get a good sense on what is and isn’t working in the rural community of Montevideo. “The community really told me the secret sauce of Montevideo is the collaboration that happens amongst the county, the city, the school district and the private sector, and I think that is a theme I hear everywhere how communities that are really making it work have figured out how to work together. It sounds like a such a simple thing, but that kind of collaboration across governments and between the public sector and private sector is where you have to make a special emphasis to make that happen,” Smith said.
Smith said she felt her tour to the three businesses in Montevideo and a tour through the city was both productive and insightful. “What I saw in Montevideo and what I’ve seen in other rural communities across the state during my rural economy tour is Minnesotans are coming together to solve problems, spur jobs and boost their economies,” Smith said.
Next, her plan is to take the knowledge she gained from her visit to Montevideo and other rural areas in Minnesota she had visited in the last few weeks back to Congress to see how she can help improve rural Minnesota’s economy and around the nation and solve the many issues plaguing rural communities.
“We need to lift up rural America and I’m working to do that,” Smith said as shown by visiting rural areas, like Montevideo, to see how these rural areas are coping with the current economy.