by Louis Hoglund, Managing Editor

It appeared there was  a contingent of Pelican Rapids area residents, as well as others from the region, when the Otter tail County Board met Dec. 17.

The discussion: Refugee settlement within the county.

Details of the discussion were not available, as this edition was completed Dec. 16.

Driving the discussion was the executive order from President Donald Trump  that enables units of government–from state down to municipality–to opt out of receiving refugees.

Recent action by the Burleigh County Commission, Bismark, North Dakota area, received national media attention.

The board voted narrowly to restrict refugee resettlement.

Spreading the word in the Pelican area was Gerry Langseth, chair of the Pelican Rapids “Welcome Place.”

“We can show support and speak positively about our refugees,” wrote Langseth, in an email to dozens of area residents and Welcome Place supporters.

She was prompted by area officials, who called for public input on the value of refugees, seeking the public to express views.

Langseth has made no secret about he position on refugee resettlement. In her message, she wrote: “It’s another time to walk the talk and speak up for what we believe.”

“It is important for the commissioners to know that it is a statistical fact that we need more people in the workforce in Otter Tail county,” wrote Julie Sachs, another active participant in the Multicultural Committee. “We do not have enough local residents or high school graduates to fill all of our job openings, and with the rate of job vacancies caused by retiring people, our businesses will be in real trouble if we don’t have refugees and immigrants who will come here to live and work.”

As we all know, there are clearly two sides to this issue.  And both views will no doubt be shared at the Dec. 17 county board meeting.

Pelican Rapids, as a community, is uniquely positioned to provide input on the issue.  The immigrant and ethnic labor force has been crucial in keeping the production lines moving at West Central Turkeys.

On the other side of the county, the city of Perham is also facing labor shortages for its several larger food processing and industrial operations–from Tuffy’s pet foods to the Barrel O’ Fun snack operation to Bongard’s Creamery.

Workforce, along with housing, will be key issues for Otter Tail County in the coming years–and beyond.

The Dec. 17 Otter Tail board meeting could be a red-letter date.  The county is currently in an intensive long range planning process.  And, the fact is, a multicultural workforce will be a factor in the future of the Otter Tail lakes area.