U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar toured the Boise Paper mill and discussed workforce development, apprenticeships, and trade issues in the paper industry.
She said she wanted to find out how she can help businesses thrive, retain and add jobs during a tour of industries in the northern part of the state.
"That means workers up here and even at the plant, now that it's stable," she said.
As workers at the mill retire, Klobuchar said it's important to make sure young people know they can make good wages at the mill, or as a power line worker, and in other industry jobs.
"We don't want them to get a four-year degree and then not have a job when we have job openings here and at other places," she said.
Before touring the mill, Klobuchar visited Marvin Windows in Warroad and Digi-Key Electronics in Thief River Falls and listened to the concerns of their leaders.
"One of the common things we hear is they want to do more in the high schools with apprenticeships," she said. "And just make it clear and kids understand the kinds of jobs they can get and the salaries they can get (in industry)."
That doesn't mean that young people wouldn't in the future get a higher degree, but many times young people don't realize that good-paying jobs are available to people with certificates and one-year degrees and training, she said.
"It's really rethinking our education," she said. "And looking at what Germany does, and Switzerland - they've done a lot more with high school, junior high kids, which means training."
Specific to the wood products industry, Klobuchar discussed with paper mill officials her testimony before the International Trade Commission about repercussions of foreign, illegal dumping of paper into the U.S. "We've had some success there," she said.
And she said she will focus on making timber more available from the national forests. A new U.S. Forest Service director began in Duluth just this week, and she is expected to make a difference in putting up wood for sale, Klobuchar said.
"Look, we've got to get more timber out," she said. "Part of the way you do this in some other states is to allow the state to manage parts of the cutting. That way it goes more efficiently, it goes faster, it's fine for the environment as all the studies will have been done, but it's just that the federal government is laboriously slow in getting that timber out."
Money intended to help the Forest Service put more wood up for sale has been awarded, but Klobuchar said it's not happening fast enough. Her membership on the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee has allowed her to work on the biomass issue and other wood products industry issues, she said.
"That will be my No. 1 focus ... for I Falls - the timber issue," she said.
Ida Rukavina, Klobuchar's regional outreach director, added that the output of timber from the Chippewa National Forest, south of the Falls, has been less than that of the Superior National Forest, east of the Falls.
"There's really good arguments that when you do the designated clear cutting where it's supposed to be, there are less forest fires, it creates habitat from aspen and other species for moose which have been dying," she said. "We think it's the slow, laborious bureaucracy (causing the Chippewa issue), so we think a new person coming in can really take this on."
The Boise Paper mill can go "head to head" in competition with any other plant as far as workers, "and they're incredibly efficient and management as promised put the investment in - things we had always hoped would happen," said Klobuchar. "Other plants are closing and theirs remain open. And that's great, but we have to continue nurturing that and making sure they get the least expensive raw materials. And that means there is more output from our forests, and that puts more loggers to work."
Meanwhile, Klobuchar said much work is yet to be done in Washington D.C. for the good of the people, but seems to be put on hold until after the Nov. 8 presidential election.
"Everyone's waiting for the election to be over and there are some really serious things to be done," she said. "Some of this forestry stuff is things we can really accomplish when we do the next farm bill."
Klobuchar is next in line for the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
She listed several issues that need to be addressed in Washington.
"We've got tax reform to try to do everything we can to make it advantageous to have jobs in America and create incentives there. We have immigration reform, which involves some Canadian issues, so they matter up here," she said. "There are just some real opportunities. For so long, we've been governing from crisis because of the downturn (in 2008). Just like the plant here, which is stable, we should be governing from opportunity, and opportunity means everything from good wages to making it easier to go to college, from making sure we have people going into careers where there are actually good paying jobs like we have at the plant and other places."
The polarizing presidential election is making it difficult for members of Congress who work with members across the political aisle, she said.
"It's been a hard time because of all the rhetoric and negativity, and so for those of that work more in the middle, we're looking forward to this election being over," she said.
Unique to Boise and International Falls, she said, is the Falls International Airport. She said would soon announce a more than $2 million grant for the airport runway.
She also noted that she last visited Borderland to discuss railway safety issues, in which she said she has seen some positive movement.
Prior to heading to the Falls, Klobuchar was in East Grand Forks to discuss a bill that would allow veterans returning to the U.S. from the battlefield who have medic training to get their degrees. "It becomes quite a burden to them and we just want to give credit for what they've done," she said.
Following the Boise tour, Klobuchar was headed to the Itasca County Fair in Grand Rapids.
As she left the mill, she noted that she experienced Thursday the most beautiful weather she'd experienced in Borderland.
"I hear the tourism season was pretty good, the All Class Reunion was great and I am really glad to be hearing that some of the businesses are growing," she said. "That's exciting."