Outstate intern program stalls at Capitol again

Despite bipartisan support over two years, a bill to incentivize internships outside the metro area continues to stall.

Jessica Lee

State legislators have pushed for two years to fund an internship program that would get students working in outstate Minnesota, but various factors continue to stop them.

Backed by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and Republican legislators have introduced bills that would give a tax credit to outstate businesses for giving paid internships to and mentoring students. Students would also receive academic credit.

Legislators and businesses say the workforce in greater Minnesota cities is aging, and that new, younger employees are needed to rejuvenate the area.

“Greater Minnesota cities really want students to know that there are really great jobs out there,” said Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, whose bill wasn’t given a hearing this session.

Legislators behind these proposals hoped getting students outside the metro area would encourage more to work in other parts of the state after college.

“The idea is that employers become really successful in creating and developing these jobs so the paid interns end up being long-term employees,” said co-author Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth.

Two DFLers proposed the internship program this session, but two Republicans authored identical bills in 2012 that met the same fate.

Former Rep. King Banaian, who pushed the measure last year, said it was unsuccessful because it was included in an omnibus bill — several bills put into a proposal that must be signed as one — that had other attachments Gov. Mark Dayton didn’t support.

Banaian said there’s still potential for the bill to move on in future sessions.

“The success will depend on getting it in a place where it’s not attached to other legislation that might be disliked by the Legislature or by the governor,” he said.

Banaian, a current economics professor at St. Cloud State, said he thought the governor would actually support it on its own.

Amanda Duerr, spokeswoman for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said the proposal met bipartisan support in the Senate this session, and last year it had DFL and Republican backers in the House and Senate.

CGMC has been a prominent supporter because its members hope the measures would encourage interns to stay in greater Minnesota, Duerr said.

Although the proposal hit another wall in 2013, she said she still has hope it’ll work in the future.

“I would not say that the proposal is dead,” Duerr said. “It just might have to take another avenue.”

This year, Norton’s bill in the state House was referred to the Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee, where Chair Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, didn’t want to give it a hearing, she said.

Norton said some legislators don’t like tax credits, “which makes it a little bit of an uphill climb to start with.”

The Senate version received a hearing last month in the Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development and was referred to the Taxes Committee. But without the House version, it won’t move further.

Students supported the measures both years, and some said they’d be interested in interning outside of the metro.

Emily Goff, secretary of the Crookston Student Association on the University’s Crookston campus, said the program would expose metro-area students to the family and community values of rural Minnesota.

“Everybody knows everybody,” she said. “They say ‘hello’ and smile, and students could learn what it’s like to live outside the big city.”

She said towns in greater Minnesota, like Crookston, would also benefit from the program because the newly educated and young workers would fill jobs and spur the communities’ economies.

“It would allow people an opportunity to explore what it’s like outside the cities and have an outlet to go to after they graduate,” University marketing freshman Samantha Lee said. “They could establish a job.”

Lee is originally from McIntosh, Minn., a town near the North Dakota border that has a population of fewer than 700 people.

The program would provide students with experiences that would contrast living in the Twin Cities area, she said.

“When you get out of the cities, out of the suburbs, things are less fast-paced and a lot more relaxed,” Lee said. “Employers really care about the happiness of their employees and community involvement.”

The program would be beneficial for metro students to explore something new, she said, and would give outstate students the opportunity to work and receive academic credit in their hometowns.

“People from that area would be able to go back and have that comfort of their community,” Lee said.

Norton said although the bills haven’t made much headway, legislators are still pushing for higher education at the Capitol.

Although it’s stopped for now, legislators, like Simonson, said the proposal to get students working outside the metro could benefit the state, and they would like to see it move forward in the future.

“These interns will come, they’ll do their work and they’ll leave, and that’s going to leave that opening for someone, and it will create a job,” he said. “I think that we can expand business by providing these opportunities. Every job we create helps the economy.”