Officials from Le Sueur and Nicollet counties, New Prague, St. James and the townships of Watonwan County met with Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, on Friday to discuss the needs of rural Minnesota in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over a conference call, Klobuchar told local leaders that she had been meeting with rural officials across the state to learn more about their needs which could be addressed in upcoming federal legislation.

“We’re continuing to work on legislation that I personally think we need to pass,” said Klobuchar. “A real bill that focuses on the needs of especially rural areas of our state, mid-sized towns. I think, understandably, the focus is put on big urban areas because of the raw numbers with COVID but we know a lot of rural areas in Greater Minnesota have been hit by COVID and the economic consequences and we’re always looking at solutions.”

In addition, Klobuchar expressed her support for the HEROES Act, a Democratic-led $3 trillion stimulus bill which passed the House in May.

Klobuchar told local leaders that alongside broadband, she had heard from rural communities that financial support for rural hospitals and small businesses were major concerns. The Senator said that she is looking at legislation which would prioritize businesses like bars, restaurants and stages which were closed during the pandemic.

Nicole Grienswic, executive director of Region Nine Development Commission, told Klobuchar that one of the organization’s current focuses was manufacturing. Manufacturing, particularly meat, poultry and grain processors, is one of the largest sectors in the region. But with COVID-19, Grienswic said that 78% of manufacturers had to change operations due to the financial impact and 36% had experienced supply chain disruptions. To assist manufacturers, Region Nine is putting efforts to building skilled labor.

Steve Cooling, treasurer of Madelia Township, highlighted recent economic developments in the community, including a remodeling of a blighted manufacturing plant which added 40 new jobs and the construction of a $400,000 ambulance garage and living quarters for the community hospital. However, Cooling emphasized that the farm economy was struggling and pushed for loans similar to the PPP lending program which expired in August.

Chuck Nickolay, Mayor of New Prague, and Le Sueur County Commissioner Steve Rohlfing told Klobuchar about how they were using CARES money to to support small businesses. Rohlfing also emphasized the county’s efforts to expand broadband access to under-served areas of the county and how it plans to use CARES dollars to support people with developmental disabilities after the closure of Le Sueur County Developmental Services.