BEMIDJI — The Bemidji Chamber of Commerce has been hard at work in the last year looking for ways to connect students with internship opportunities with local businesses, in hopes of retaining local talent for the future.
Their solution: InternBemidji.org, a website that streamlines the process for students and business owners to connect for internship opportunities.
“When you think about all of this young energetic talent; we are exporting it and we need to keep that here for our workforce,” Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce President Lori Paris said at the 105th anniversary celebration for the Chamber Tuesday night. “They are our future.”
Paris acknowledged that more than 1,000 students graduate from Bemidji State University, Northwest Technical College and Oak Hills Christian College each year, many of whom leave Bemidji for employment after graduation.
In December of last year, the Chamber of Commerce wanted to address that issue, honing in on those students by focusing on internships in hopes of retaining the talented graduates who otherwise leave.
Paris said that the concept of internships is nothing new, as internships increase the chances for students to become employed. The problem was a gap that existed between the business community and the learning institutions.
Robert Griggs, BSU vice president for innovation and extended learning, said BSU and NTC President Richard Hanson also wanted to increase internship opportunities by collaborating and creating partnerships within the community.
After visiting communities, Griggs found that many businesses in the area had an interest in providing internship opportunities but did not know how or where to start.
“The whole idea behind the website was to develop a user-friendly site that would connect the very talented students with local business and industry opportunities in the Bemidji area,” Griggs said.
With a help of a $30,000 grant from the Neilson Foundation, 13 students were given paid internships in the community in the last year.
The Intern Bemidji website serves to simplify the process of finding students for short-term projects, jobs and internships.
Chamber member and web developer Debbie Warne-Jacobson said the site is a gateway for both students and businesses to get direct access to opportunities in the area.
The website has testimonials from businesses like Sanford Health, Karvakko Engineering, T.J. Studio and others, which have had interns.
There is also a form for business owners interested in posting a job or internship on the site for which students can apply.
Warne-Jacobson said the site is always interested in adding more testimonials from businesses that have had local interns and can share their experiences.
The 105th anniversary celebration for the Chamber of Commerce also highlighted the passing of the gavel from outgoing Chairwoman Sue Kringen to incoming Chairman Warren Larson, director of public relations for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota.
Larson said he is excited for the opportunity and he hopes to focus the Chamber’s attention on the benefits businesses can realize by attacking the high cost of unhealthy employees.
He said if businesses would focus on changing unhealthy behaviors it could impact health-care costs.
“I hope that you will join with me in an effort to make Bemidji move,” Larson said. “By this I am not talking about moving to another location; when I am talking about move I am talking about get out and move. Let’s walk, bike, swim and hike and show our neighbors that we don’t take health for granted.”