Before moving to Southern Cass County and working in the Brainerd Lakes area for the past 22 years, we lived north of the metro area and I drove 40+ miles into Minneapolis to park blocks away from the downtown tower where I worked, occasionally opting to walk up the 25 floors of stairs. I was working for a Minnesota retail corporation in their new store design department, putting together construction documents for their nationwide expansion plan, sometimes the stores looked a little different or were being remodeled. When I heard about an opportunity to design custom homes and still use my background designing commercial buildings, hospitals, clinics, congregate housing and nursing homes, it wasn’t hard for me to take a drive north, passing the mountains of ice piled up to the 169 roadside along Mille Lacs in May of 1995, and we moved north.
A lot has changed since then, our daughters have grown up, different jobs, projects, and clients to work with our general contracting, new construction, and remodeling business. There has been laughter and struggles, just like everyone else, I’d like to know there will be more laughter.
I grew up in Minnetonka, active in community soccer, bicycling, and scouting. If I couldn’t bike or walk where I wanted to go, there was the 12d bus I could catch into Hopkins or Minneapolis. My first “jobs” were thru scouting, as a summer camp counselor in Becker County on the White Earth Reservation and volunteering at a facility for mentally challenged adults in Wayzata. The next job was for my interest in desserts, as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Hopkins, the regional pie factory was behind the restaurant. With my first car came the need to sell auto parts at a local chain, which grew into being routinely scheduled to work at four of the store locations.
After graduating from Minnetonka High, I continued with the Architectural Drafting post-secondary program at Hennepin Tech in Eden Prairie. While in tech school I began working for an Environmental Consulting firm in Minneapolis, preparing charts, graphics, and maps for Super Fund cleanup site remediation and environmental impact studies for new projects. The interesting knowledge of the work and expense required to clean up after environmental disasters and the disturbing knowledge of how easily we allow them to continue happening. This almost distracted me into continuing my education on an environmental career path, but I had transferred schools and was graduating from Minneapolis Tech with an Architectural Technology degree and wanted to see where that would take me.
After a few computer drafting jobs, I would show up and wonder if what I did all day meant anything. I found a job with an Architectural/Engineering firm that specialized in Hospitals, Clinics, and Nursing Homes. It wasn’t just that I enjoyed being involved with the design, or that coordinating with the Architectural/Interior/Structural/Electrical/Mechanical team to complete a project was interesting and but the impact our work had on communities and patients was rewarding. Working on Regional Treatment Centers, Congregate Housing, and Assisted Living Facilities showed me how important supporting and providing substance abuse recovery and safe aging-in-place housing is for Minnesotans.
Getting to know the region in the past 22 years started with different employers and area schools. In the late 1990’s, the Blandin Foundation hosted a regional forum and survey of residents to determine what important resources are vital to this region for a vision of the future. The input of several hundred residents of all ages, education, and professions was summarized with: Access to Healthcare, Lifelong Learning, Affordable Housing, Updating Infrastructure, and Environmental Stewardship. Each one of us had different ideas, but we came together to agree that these items were vital to the future of our region.
Not too long after that, I had a job-changing injury that introduced me to the actual cost of individual health insurance for my family and had me enrolling at Central Lakes College to explore career training. The timing for me to enroll in classes coincided with the local paper mill shutting down, my classmates were the same parents I would see picking up our children from elementary and middle school. Initially, it was a joke about our re-training potential and whining about having more homework than our kids. But I could see how my classmates/fellow parents were struggling with their career transition. I was paying my tuition out of pocket, and the reality that my family living costs would not be met with potential starting pay meant college classes had to take a break.
The exciting part was I found a well-paying job with union benefits in Grand Rapids, at the same time I was called and selected for 1 year of Grand Jury duty in St Paul. My daily commute to Grand Rapids was distracted a few days each month with a trip to St Paul. A Grand Jury determines by vote if the government has enough evidence and testimony for an indictment before a trial. I was learning how methamphetamine is made, hearing immigration cases, counterfeit merchandise internet sales, and domestic cases on the native reservations under federal jurisdiction. This was frustrating, to know that I’m driving over 3 hours a day commuting to work trying to make ends meet for my family. Then staying over in St Paul, listening to cases of individuals and groups that were breaking laws, endangering the public with drugs or terrorism, selling fake beanie bears and families beating each other to death. My commute to Grand Rapids was about change, on a foggy morning the radio broke with the announcement that the Wellstone plane had crashed, as I was listening and processing how horrible this was, my coworker was celebrating her one issue victory. I didn’t have any further interest in commuting to Grand Rapids.
I passed my insurance exams and started selling medicare supplements, life insurance, annuities, and long term care insurance. The more seniors that I met with, the more I heard the terms insurance poor, rising healthcare costs, risky variable investment losses, and pre-existing health conditions. For a couple years as a salesman and field trainer, I found that people nearing retirement couldn’t qualify because of pre-existing conditions or the premiums were financially out of reach. My own retirement funds had been dented by the re-training years, and our government had taxed me an additional 10% withdrawal penalty.
It was time to get back into the construction industry and I was interested in being the owner, in 2005 we purchased half our business. Watching all of the new homes popping up, it was exciting to initially have a steady stream of projects, then the housing financial crisis made the phone stop ringing. We were fortunate to not be sitting on empty builder spec homes, but finding projects was difficult, eventually our business partner walked away. Smaller remodel projects and storm damage repairs became typical. As foreclosed homes started to pile up, I started to inspect and report on area vacant homes, it was difficult to see how area residents were struggling financially and that economic stress was complicated with family homelessness. My connection with Central Lakes College grew when they asked me to train as a trainer, for a Building Performance Institute program the State of Minnesota had funded to teach Building Analyst, Envelope Professional, and Air Sealing classes through State and Tribal colleges. After the certification training, the class was used in larger metro areas. It was interesting to learn about the process that the state had funded and the intention of the training program to expand skills for job seekers or building trade professionals. The biggest benefit for me was the opportunity to network with building knowledge professionals, statewide trade school instructors, and weatherization teams, it led to attending a Photo-voltaic and Thermal Solar training in Bemidji. I have been a contractor with the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership and looked at existing housing and businesses in our region for their Small Cities Development Grant Projects, it makes me wonder how, as a state, we could invest more in improving our housing for better health and reduced energy costs.
My wife Jill and I have been increasing our political involvement the past few years, we are both members of the Cass County DFL Executive and Outreach Committees, and I am the Vice Chair of our Cass County DFL group. I have been active in many things over the years, as I look back and write about them, they involve struggles and challenges facing many Minnesotans, especially in Southern Cass, Todd, and Wadena Counties.
If you’ve read this far, I may already have your vote, to represent Minnesotans, not Corporations.
VOTE ALEX HERING
DISTRICT 9A DEMOCRATIC FARMER LABOR PARTY CANDIDATE
Vote Alex Hering
If you haven’t already, please register to vote so you can vote for Alex Hering, DFL District 9A Minnesota House Candidate.