Kerissa Olmsted’s dual B.A. in Spanish and Portuguese, five years of hospitality management experience, and well-rounded extracurricular resume weren’t enough for her to break into the Twin Cities’ booming health-care field. During the summer of 2013, while taking science prerequisites at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), she applied to 20 jobs — with zero response. Her dream of a career as a licensed physical therapist was on the ropes.
A chance encounter with Brian Mogren, Director of Healthcare Partnerships for MCTC and Saint Paul College, changed her luck. Mogren runs the Central Corridor College Fellowship (C3 Fellows) program, an 18-month workforce development initiative funded by a $200,000 McKnight Foundation grant. C3 Fellows, in turn, is part of the Central Corridor Anchor Partnership (CCAP), a community development organization.
CCAP has brought together about a dozen of the area’s largest employers in advance of the Green Line’s opening, in order that C3 Fellows might place 200 MCTC and Saint Paul College students in fellowships at major Central Corridor health-care employers, like Regions Hospital and Fairview Medical Center, by the end of this year. According to Mike Christenson, MCTC’s Associate VP of Workforce Development, C3 Fellows is an early component of an ambitious, multi-year plan to encourage the Central Corridor’s biggest employers to hire, train, and promote local workers.
“C3 Fellows is an important demonstration program,” says Christenson. By providing the educational and practical resources necessary for the Fellows to establish careers, he says, “we aim to convince talented [local] scientists to anchor their careers along the corridor and tie residents to jobs along the corridor.”
Mogren helped Olmsted spruce up her resume and navigate Fairview Health Services’ application process. It worked. In November, the North Minneapolis native got a part-time job as a rehab specialist at the Fairview facility on University and Vandalia. Her bosses fit her hours around her class schedule — “I was surprised and grateful,” she says—and even encouraged her to incorporate her skills as a yoga instructor into her work. She now leads two weekly yoga classes for patients.
“The Green Line can’t open fast enough,” she says, as she’s tired navigating rush hour between the Central Corridor and her home in North Minneapolis.
Massive opportunity for cohesive community
CCAP owes its existence to the largesse of the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, a broad-based coalition of mostly private foundations, and the efforts of two local development experts: Louis Smith, a Minneapolis attorney whose work with South Minneapolis’s Phillips Partnership helped to spur the resurgence of the Midtown Greenway/Lake Street corridor; and Ellen Watters, a Civic Source principal whose lengthy resume includes stints as President of the Midway Chamber of Commerce and VP of Economic Development for the Saint Paul Chamber of Commerce.
According to Eric Muschler, a McKnight Foundation program officer whose work intersects with CCAP’s, Smith and Watters were tasked with finding three broad areas of common interest: local personnel development, which is Smith’s forte; local procurement, which Watters leads; and placemaking, which Muschler describes as “securing the financial interests of anchor institutions by investing in the surrounding communities.”
Within each area, CCAP set medium-term goals for its members. These include boosting hiring from the 15 Central Corridor ZIP codes by 5 percent, increasing local buying by 5 percent, reaching pre-set workforce diversity benchmarks, and reducing the district’s longstanding racial employment gap.
The goals may not seem ambitious, but CCAP’s domain is massive. According to the Anchor Environmental Scan, a McKnight Foundation analysis co-authored by Burke Murphy and Matt Schmit, the Central Corridor supports 350,000 jobs, and the medical anchors alone — Regions Hospital, Fairview Health Services, United Hospital, and Hennepin County Medical Center — boast a combined payroll of nearly $5 billion.
C3 Fellows work-force development goals fit neatly into the CCAP’s imperative: to leverage the economic power of its biggest institutions — so-called “anchor institutions” — in the service of a more cohesive, prosperous community.
Challenges to growth
The biggest challenge to C3 Fellows’ sustainability isn’t labor supply — there are countless aspiring health-care professionals at MCTC and Saint Paul College — but institutional demand. C3 Fellows requires an ample supply of entry-level, semi-skilled healthcare jobs, of which there are currently few. Of the 600 total positions on the Central Corridor, with initial partners at Fairview, Health Partners, HealthEast, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, and Augustana, only 35 are entry-level.
The shortage, explains Christenson, is structural. Deeply entrenched protocols prevent healthcare institutions from billing for work performed by non-credentialed employees, including the students that C3 Fellows serves. Hospital positions are more credentialed than ever, with fewer entry-level opportunities.
Although 75 percent of MCTC and Saint Paul College students work while taking classes, few gain practical experience in their fields of study. “Health-care students need to be working in hospitals,” says Christenson, “not Holiday stations.”
The area’s students do know their way around the workplace. Kerissa Olmsted is far from the only C3 Fellow with an eye-catching resume.
“The average age of both Saint Paul College and MCTC students is 28 years old,” says Mogren, and “many are working professionals going back to school to gain additional skills or to take their careers to the next level.”
Health care is a great place to start, however, and Mogren and Christenson intend to “make our goal [of 200 fellows],” says Christenson. They’re also planning to expand into other areas, such as manufacturing and technology. Since many modern jobs demand formal certificates and degrees, he adds, there’s enormous potential for programs that “promote both educational and employment opportunities for students who come from communities [that are] traditionally underserved by higher education,” which includes some communities along the Green Line.
Another challenge is negotiating procurement contracts with anchors to create jobs. Watters cites a recent “paradigm shift” in which anchors’ “procurement staff are rewarded for cost-savings and efficiency, while we are asking them to [buy] from smaller vendors with less of a track record,” she says. “Some of those goods and services may actually cost more in the short term.”
Still, several anchors recently inked a joint snow-removal contract with Frogtown-based Prescription Landscape. According to Muschler, the contract cut Fairview’s plowing costs by 38 percent. It may also lead Prescription to hire or subcontract with local drivers and support staff, potentially creating jobs in the neighborhood. To expedite the process, CCAP is providing Prescription with training and hiring assistance.
Transit, housing, educational initiatives
According to Watters, CCAP is working closely with Metro Transit and certain anchors to procure discounted bus and rail passes for students and workers from participating institutions—in time for the Green Line’s June 14 opening. Other transit-related initiatives include a long-term effort to improve “last-mile” connections for students and workers who live near, but not on, the Green Line — the revamped express bus service on Snelling Avenue is just one component of this — as well as new or remodeled transit centers at or near anchor institutions.
Meanwhile, CCAP is pairing with the Minnesota Housing Partnership to educate anchor-institution employees about affordable homeownership options along the Green Line. The most visible product of this effort is a comprehensive brochure that highlights specific neighborhoods within the district and offers information about housing loans, assistance, and other resources.
In addition to the C3 Fellows program, CCAP’s personnel development work includes Scrubs Camp, a weeklong summer camp that introduces local high-school students to the healthcare industry. The brainchild of Paul Pribbenow, President of Augsburg College, Scrubs Camp recruits about 100 talented youngsters per season from the West Bank and other Green Line neighborhoods. Saint Paul College also hosts a Scrubs Camp each summer with CCAP support.
CCAP is also forging closer links between the district’s two community colleges and local four-year institutions. MCTC and Augsburg, for instance, attracted 400 applicants for just 100 spots at their brand-new, three-year RN program, and the University of Minnesota now offers a fourth-year master’s option for successful graduates. St. Catherine University is exploring ways to align with MCTC and Saint Paul College as well.
Leveraging anchor institutions’ economic power
CCAP’s ultimate aim is to generate a positive feedback loop — to “turn these initiatives into institutional behavior,” as Muschler puts it. The “anchor institution strategy” — leveraging the economic power of large inner-city employers, like hospitals and schools (“Eds and Meds,” as they’re known) — has a long, generally successful history.
Muschler points to Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where the University of Chicago offers robust incentives to employees who live within a few blocks of campus, and Cleveland’s Health-Tech Corridor, where Cleveland Clinic and Case Western University have poured billions of dollars into transit improvements, workforce development initiatives, and local procurement efforts.
These areas — and other places where the anchor strategy has been successfully implemented, like Detroit’s Midtown corridor and East Baltimore’s “Eds and Meds” cluster — are vibrant and inviting, to be sure. They’re also surrounded, and dwarfed, by far less fortunate neighborhoods that continue to suffer from disinvestment and neglect.
The Central Corridor has struggled with similar issues, but its existing social institutions and economic assets — not to mention Minnesota’s entrenched culture of civic engagement and public-private partnerships — provide CCAP with a firm base on which to build. For job seekers like Kerissa Olmsted, there’s light at the ends, and in the middle, of the Green Line.
This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy. Brian Martucci is The Line’s innovation and jobs news editor.