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Inver Hills says 'not yet' to satellite campus

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A push to bring back an Inver Hills Community College satellite campus to Cottage Grove has stalled, but one city council member behind the effort says the city won't call it quits in the quest to lure a post-secondary education training option to town.

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Inver Hills officials said a recently completed study showed there is not enough demand from local businesses for a new satellite that would be operated as an extension of the communiy college. But Cottage Grove officials say the effort isn't dead.

The now-demolished Cottage Square Mall had housed an Inver Hills training classroom and computer lab between 2002 and 2004, but when the rundown shopping center met the wrecking ball, Inver Hills didn't relocate the satellite and instead shut up shop.

Now, Cottage Grove's Economic Development Authority and the commission's president, city council member Fred Luden, are working to re-establish a post-high school educational opportunity within the city limits, a key, he says, to job growth.

Another satellite training facility is an attractive prospect to economic development officials seeking to create more living-wage jobs in Cottage Grove, a city where roughly 10,700 residents commute elsewhere for work each morning and spend an average of just under 26 minutes doing so, according to Census Bureau statistics.

Bringing post-secondary training opportunities -- whether through Inver Hills or another educational institution -- to Cottage Grove could help change that, Luden says, by luring more living-wage jobs to the city.

And when those jobs come, he says, there is "a need to make sure residents are ready and have the skill sets to fill the jobs when they're created," Luden said.

A task force has been meeting since the spring to discuss the satellite training center issue. The group -- consisting of officials from the city, school district, Marathon Petroleum Co., 3M, Inver Hills, Washington County Workforce Center and the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce -- will gather again sometime in the next month to evaluate what to do next, said city administrator Ryan Schroeder, who has been involved in the discussions.

Schroeder said many businesses in Cottage Grove have existing internal training programs in place, a fact that may have led to the lukewarm interest expressed in another Inver Hills center in the city.

"I think what probably happened is what Inver Hills saw was not a burning desire for a different (training) model," Schroeder said. "I think there's an interest (from businesses) in ... having options to evaluate."

The task force's next move will likely be to cast out a larger net in its search for a satellite training opportunity, Luden said, expanding the search to include other area colleges, like White Bear Lake's Century College.

Despite the delay, Luden said he still believes bringing post-secondary training back to Cottage Grove is a very achievable goal. For one, he says, around 80 percent of the city's workforce could take advantage of the continuing educational opportunities -- according to the latest Census Bureau data, only roughly 20 percent of Cottage Grove's workforce has a bachelor's degree.

Plus, Cottage Grove students are taking advantage of nearby two-year colleges in large numbers -- the city has the fifth most students of any community at Inver Hills and Park High School ranks seventh among enrollment of new high school grads at the Inver Grove Heights school.

"This is a key piece to get growth," Luden said. Later, he added: "A community college training center makes it less expensive for a business to move to town. Then you're providing to workers those skill sets so they're ready to go to work."

Jon Avise can be reached at javise@swcbulletin.com.

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