Weather Forecast


NTC helping former Ainsworth employees

Northwest Technical College Director of Nursing Rhonda Bender helps Ross Walter log onto a computer during registration last week. Walters is one of many former Ainsworth employees attending NTC. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Mary Hahn has always wanted to go to school to become a nurse.

This week, the 54-year-old Bemidji woman will get her chance. Hahn is one of many former Ainsworth employees starting classes this week at Northwest Technical College.

Ainsworth closed its Bemidji oriented-strand board plant for an indefinite period in October and extended the closure in December. Company officials gave employees severance packages rather than keep them on as laid-off workers.

Hahn, who worked at the Bemidji plant for 24 years, said it was difficult to leave her job.

"It was a good job," she said.

Now, Hahn and 25 other former Ainsworth employees who were dislocated last fall are seeking new opportunities by enrolling in programs at NTC.

"This is something I've always wanted to do," Hahn said. "The long-term goal is to be an RN."

Former Ainsworth employees who are enrolled in Rural Minnesota CEP's dislocated worker program are eligible through the federal Trade Adjustment Act to receive up to two years of training, including tuition and books, and two years of unemployment.

Rural Minnesota CEP is a partner with the Minnesota WorkForce Center in Bemidji, which invited NTC representatives to meet with a group of 40 former Ainsworth employees.

Near the end of December, Daniel Larson, manufacturing engineering technology instructor at NTC, talked with the group about the new academic program, which started last fall.

Later in the day, he brought several in the group to NTC.

"All of them seemed to identify with the program, and their background was a good match," Larson said.

Six former Ainsworth employees, including Doug Scott, have since enrolled in the manufacturing engineering technology program at NTC.

"I'm just looking at this as an opportunity rather than a bad thing," Scott said.

The 44-year-old Bemidji man, who worked at Ainsworth for nearly seven years, said the program included many of the missing elements that he needs to move upward and forward.

"This was it," he said.

Scott, who has a bachelor's degree in business from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, said he is considering a career in plant and operations management or industrial safety management.

Hahn and nine other former Ainsworth employees enrolled in the nursing program at NTC, while others enrolled in the construction electricity, administrative support and residential plumbing/heating, ventilation and air conditioning programs.

Bruce Hemstad, dean and chief academic officer at NTC, said the college provides short-term certificate and diploma programs as well as two-year degree programs.

"They've got a lot to choose from," Hemstad said.

Besides having access to assistance through the Trade Adjustment Act, former Ainsworth employees also have access to assistance from a $410,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Rural Minnesota CEP received the grant last fall.

"Basically, it is to break down barriers to employment," said Wanda Melgaard, team leader at Rural Minnesota CEP.

The grant provides supportive services including career assessment and planning.

Hemstad said NTC recognizes the "troubled economy in our region, our state and the nation."

"We have only to look at what has happened here in Bemidji as a result of the Ainsworth shutdown to see the impact that one event is having on the community," he said. "In these times, it is important to remember that higher education is a key factor in the state's economic recovery. ... The faculty and staff at NTC are doing all that they can to assist in the admission and enrollment processes to make entering, or re-entering, college a rewarding endeavor."