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Black Swan Cooperage owner Heidi Krasch, right, explains the barrel making process to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Tuesday in Park Rapids. (Anna Erickson | Forum Communications)

Klobuchar tours area companies

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PARK RAPIDS -- U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was in the Bemidji area on Tuesday, specifically visiting businesses in Park Rapids and Walker.

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In Park Rapids, Klobuchar took a tour of Black Swan Cooperage, a family run business that handcrafts barrels that are sold to small distilleries and microbreweries across the country.

In Walker, Klobuchar visited Pro-West & Associates to congratulate Annette Theroux, president and CEO, and her staff on the company being named the 2013 U.S. Small Business Administration's National Small Business Subcontractor of the Year.

Klobuchar also was in Fergus Falls and Sebeka on Tuesday.

Heidi Karasch, owner of Black Swan Cooperage, said that while the industry as a whole is growing and her company could easily sell more barrels, finding additional workers would be a stumbling block.

Barrel making is a craft and there is a lack of skilled workers in the area, she told Klobuchar.

Klobuchar said she is looking for ways for the federal government to help fund job training programs to close the skills gap prevalent in northern Minnesota.

"We need to get the word out to kids that getting a manufacturing is something they can get into," she said.

Creating internships and apprenticeships in certain work fields at the high school should be a priority, she said. "We need to work on making grants available for these types of programs," Klobuchar said.

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