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The state of Minnesota launched a new Office of Public Engagement this week in the hopes of shrinking racial, gender and other disparities in employment in a very tight job market.

Minnesota has one of the highest racial disparity gaps in the nation when it comes to employment, educational achievement and health care. The 12-month unemployment rate as of May was 2.6% for white Minnesotans, 6.9% for Blacks and 3.9% for Latino workers.

Those caught in the gap often include people belonging to racial and immigrant minority groups, residents with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community.

"We're committed to being more proactive and intentionally gathering input from community members about decisions and policies that impact their lives," said Maureen Ramirez, head of the new office. "This work is about asking for ideas and getting feedback on what's working and what's not, so that together with community members, we can propose solutions for common challenges that job seekers and small businesses face."

Officials with the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) said they are determined to shrink the gaps.

If successful, the state's newest office will serve as a bridge, allowing state leaders, employers and job training pros to meet, network with and hire a wider range of people than in the past.

Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), said in a statement he hopes the new office elevates the state's ability to reach more diverse communities statewide.

"Success will be defined by how well we're able to expand pathways for more people to access DEED's programs, and ensuring our work meets the needs of Minnesotans we are trying to serve," he said.

The new Office of Public Engagement will combine many DEED outreach efforts under one umbrella. Additional staff will be added to ensure that state leaders can tap "different community strengths" around the state.

As an example, DEED officials noted the recent attendance of Gov. Tim Walz at Juneteenth events last week. DEED staffers also will soon participate in community festivals in the Twin Cities, consult with Indian bands and visit local businesses across the state.

Earlier this month, officials launched a "Summer of Jobs" campaign to highlight job opportunities and help employers find workers in labor pools previously overlooked. Grove and DEED officials visited job sites with immigrant laborers and others this month in Owatonna, Duluth and Mankato.

In April, DEED highlighted a new $1 million pilot program and another $28 million that Walz has proposed to invest in IT training programs for teens, young adults and people of color across the state.

Those two programs are among the first in Minnesota that focus on bringing IT training to communities of color.

Software development jobs in Minnesota pay $100,000 a year, and machine programmers make $64,000 a year on average. Both of those fields are growing at a rate of 21 and 22% a year. Grove said the goal is for more people of color to enter IT careers, earn sustainable wages and to improve generational wealth.