Minnesota considers $4.5 million for ad campaign to lure out-of-state workers

Minnesota would launch a multi-million dollar marketing effort to attract out-of-state talent and address the worker shortage under a proposal from state economic development officials.

The $4.5 million campaign would amplify the message on Minnesota's talent attraction website, JoinUsMN.com. State officials say they currently lack the money to promote the website.

Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove, who previously worked at Google, said he was stunned by the lack of focus on talent attraction when he took the commissioner's job in 2019.

"At Google, we had billion-dollar marketing budgets," Grove said. "I had low expectations coming into government that we’d have a lot of money for marketing. But when I found out that our marketing budget at DEED (the Department of Employment and Economic Development) was zero, my jaw hit the floor."

Minnesota's labor force has about 100,000 fewer workers than it had before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. About two-thirds of the workers who left were age 55 or older and took early retirement, meaning they are less likely to re-enter the workforce. The other one-third are younger workers, and they are more likely to come back, state officials say.

Even so, Minnesota still faces an unprecedented worker shortage. The state has 2.8 job openings for every unemployed worker, DEED's economists estimate. The state's unemployment rate is 2.7 percent, the lowest since 1999.

Minnesota is far from the first state to consider an out-of-state marketing campaign. Wisconsin spent several million dollars in 2018 to put ads in front of millennials who lived in Chicago, encouraging them to move to the Badger State.

Other Midwestern states also have million-dollar budgets for talent attraction, Grove said.

"There are bordering states spending millions of dollars on marketing trying to pull our talent into their state," he said. "Looking at some of the latest demographic numbers on outmigration, this is an area where Minnesota has to be more assertive at a time when we have the tightest labor market we’ve ever had." 

The marketing campaign is one piece of a larger funding request that Gov. Tim Walz's administration has made to state lawmakers. DEED is asking for $15 million to fund a tech jobs pipeline for teenage students, $13 million to retrain adults for growing industries, and another $15 million to update Minnesota's online job portal.

Senate Jobs Committee Chairman Eric Pratt wasn't ready to commit to the idea. It will take more than an ad campaign to attract out-of-state workers, Pratt said. 

Senate Republicans have made permanent income tax cuts their top priority. Under the GOP's plan, the bottom tax rate -- which all filers pay on at least a portion of their income -- would be cut nearly in half.

"We want to be a place that attracts families. This is a great place to live," Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said in an interview. "It’s a great place to raise a family, and more people need to know about that. But we also have to make it attractive enough for them to move here."

House Workforce Development Committee Chairman Mohamud Noor said he supported the out-of-state marketing plan.

"It's something we haven't done," Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, said in an interview. "People aren't just going to come. You have to invite them."