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Chamber and area businesses continue "Plan B" workforce efforts

The Cook County Chamber had an interesting meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 5. About 20 representatives from area businesses gathered to learn more about the possibility of recruiting workers from Puerto Rico. WTIP’s Rhonda Silence talked with Cook County Chamber Director Jim Boyd about those efforts.
Boyd explained that the effort to recruit workers from Puerto Rico is part of an overall Cook County initiative dubbed “Plan B.” He said Plan B is a conglomeration of efforts over the last two years to ensure that Cook County employers are not wholly dependent on foreign workers. 
Concerns were raised primarily because the J-1 student work/travel visas are vulnerable to “political backlash” and an “anti-immigrant attitude.” 
Boyd said one step to get away from recruiting workers through the visa programs was the development of a culinary arts program to start this year at School District 166. That is a partnership with Hibbing Community College and local businesses. 
Another step has been research of recruiting workers from Puerto Rico, where the economy has not fully recovered from recent hurricanes. Workers who want to move here have an advantage in that they are already U.S. citizens. 
At the meeting with area businesses, Boyd and Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA) Executive Director Mary Somnis described the Plan B efforts to date. 
Boyd also told WTIP that local businesses heard from Minneapolis-based Frederico Velasco of Talent Integration, who has had success bringing workers to Iowa to work at the Winnebago plant there. Velasco has placed almost 200 people from Puerto Rico with Winnebago, as permanent employees. 
Velasco was at the February 5 meeting to talk about the work he has done for Winnebago and to learn if he could help Cook County as well. 
The Cook County/Grand Marais EDA applied for—and received—a grant from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation to hire someone to facilitate the Plan B efforts. Whether or not that leads to a partnership with Velasco is yet to be determined. 
It would not be an entirely new effort. Boyd said Bluefin Bay Resort has already worked with Velasco. There are at least 10 permanent employees from Puerto Rico working at Blue Fin Bay in Tofte now. 
Click below to hear the full interview on these efforts with Cook County Chamber Director Jim Boyd.