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MRA Report: ProStart, Politics and an Expo

Leaders of the Minnesota Restaurant Association with the ProStart students who volunteered at the Taste of the NFL event around the Super Bowl.

Some of my columns are devoted to a single topic, but that isn’t the case this month. There is simply too much of interest going on right now. As I wrote about last month, one of the great challenges facing foodservice is a shortage of talented workers now and for the foreseeable future. The Minnesota Restaurant Association and the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation are working on some solutions to that dilemma. The ProStart program is now offered in about 50 area high schools. More than 80 Minnesota ProStart students had the culinary experience of a lifetime assisting renowned chefs from across the country at Taste of the NFL on the eve of Super Bowl LII. They worked for two days helping to prepare, plate and serve small plates to a sold-out crowd. The February 3 event raised more than $1 million for hunger relief. The chefs and event organizers were very complimentary of the students' efforts. Thank you to the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation, Taste of the NFL founder Wayne Kostroski and chef-sponsor Ecolab, as well as the teachers who supervised the students and pitched in right along with them. 

Another important workforce development effort is the annual Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation scholarship program. Applications are open until March 16 for students pursuing a post-secondary degree in culinary arts, restaurant management or hospitality management at an accredited institution.  Applicants must be Minnesota residents, but the school attended is not required to be in the state. The program awarded $99,000 to 26 students in 2017. Since its inception in 2008, scholarships totaling over $611,000 have been provided to 262 students.

Isac Vu, who was one of the ProStart students representing Como Park Senior High School, said he was more impressed with the notable chefs than the football players at the Taste of the NFL.

March is the month for state tournaments and has been for a long time. In addition to contests for basketball, wrestling and hockey, there is also a state championship in culinary arts and restaurant management. The 2018 Sysco ProStart Invitational will be held on Thursday, March 8, at the Sysco facility in Mounds View. We have the largest field in a very long time with 16 teams competing in the culinary event and seven teams in the restaurant management category. In culinary, teams of two to five students have just one hour to prepare a three-course meal while being judged on sanitation, knife skills and team work. In restaurant management, teams develop and present a concept for a new foodservice business and answer questions from an industry panel of judges. It is encouraging to see the talent and hard work of high school students destined to be part of our next generation workforce.

The Minnesota Legislature convened for its 2018 session on February 20 and has a great deal to do prior to mandatory adjournment on May 20. The makeup of the Legislature is clearer following two special elections on February 12. The balance in both the Senate (34 GOP – 33 DFL) and the House (77 GOP – 57 DFL) remained the same as it was before the resignations of Sen. Dan Schoen (DFL – Cottage Grove) and Rep. Tony Cornish (GOP – Vernon Center) over allegations of sexual misconduct. Carla Bingham (DFL – Cottage Grove) kept SD 54 in DFL hands with a victory over Denny McNamara (GOP – Hastings) by a slim 51-47 percent margin. Jeremy Munson (GOP – Lake Crystal) defeated Melissa Wagner (DFL – Lake Crystal) by a margin of 59 to 40 percent. The outcomes were fairly close to those in past elections and were not the “wave” results some pundits had predicted.

There is still controversy caused by the resignation of former Lt. Governor Tina Smith to assume the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the resignation of Al Franken. A Minnesota district court dismissed a lawsuit challenging the ability of Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R – Paynesville) to be both a state senator and lt. governor. Judge John Guthmann ruled that the plaintiff lacked standing because she hadn’t been injured. He also found that the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the qualifications to be a senator. The suit could be refiled or the decision could be appealed. 

The 2018 Legislature has very important issues to resolve during the upcoming session: 

An ongoing budget to fund the Legislature following Gov. Dayton’s veto of funding over a tax bill disagreement at the end of the 2017 session.

A tax bill to reconcile our state tax system with the major changes made to the federal tax code in December. The current estimate is that barring state law changes, the impact of the federal bill is an $800 million increase in state levies on Minnesotans.

Consideration of labor law changes, particularly a decision on uniform labor standards and whether cities and counties have the authority to enact their own minimum wage and employer mandate ordinances. The labor law debate could also include consideration of other critical issues affecting the foodservice industry such as a tipped wage or tip sharing.

A public works or capital investment bill to fund building and infrastructure projects. Tourism related proposals include the RiverCentre parking garage replacement in St. Paul and a major expansion of the Eagle Center in Wabasha.

A great chance to impact the discussion at the Legislature is our annual Hospitality and Tourism Day at the Capitol on Monday, March 12, in St. Paul. The event is an opportunity to meet with your representatives and have your voice heard. The day begins at the Minnesota History Center with an hour of networking with state representatives and your peers. The program also includes an explanation of issues, remarks from key legislative leaders and instruction on how to get the most out of meetings with lawmakers. A complimentary shuttle service will take you to your appointments and return you back to the History Center parking lot. Registration is open at

In addition to statewide issues, our industry is also often engaged on local issues that impact us. As you may know, new St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter campaigned on a pledge to create a city wage of $15 an hour in response to the national $15 Now campaign. The City Council has engaged the Citizen's League of the Twin Cities to study the issue and report its findings. The Minnesota Restaurant Association is working with other business groups and with its members on plans to be extremely engaged in the debate. A large group of employees are also engaged on this issue and have held several meetings to voice their concerns, particularly about the importance of protecting good paying tipped positions. 

Save the Date: The 2018 Minnesota Hospitality Conference and Expo will be at RiverCentre in St. Paul on Wednesday, October 3. There is more information online at

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