ST. CLOUD -- When the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, raises or lowers their interest rate, virtually everyone is affected.

On Tuesday, Neel Kashkari, one of a handful of people responsible for making changes to that rate, held a town hall Q&A with over a hundred people in St. Cloud State University's Atwood Center Ballroom.

Kashkari is the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, one of 12 regional banks making up the Federal Reserve system headquartered in Washington D.C. Kashkari's district is a large swath of the upper Midwest including Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, as well as northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Every six weeks, Kashkari travels to Washington D.C. to discuss and set the interest rate with other federal reserve bank presidents alongside a Board of Governors.

Prior to the start of his town hall, Kashkari spent the day in St. Cloud meeting with local employers and workers. He views St. Cloud's overall economy as strong, but with a bit of slack in the labor market.

"Nearly every business says they're growing," Kashkari says."The biggest struggle is finding workers. But, we're not seeing wages accelerating very quickly. That means businesses are not struggling that hard."

Kashkari believes one of the St. Cloud area's economic strengths is a large and growing immigrant population - one that could help employers with hiring difficulties.

"There still seems to be available labor and untapped potential in that community," he observed. "I think St. Cloud needs to find ways to bridge those gaps so potential workers can find the jobs."

Kashkari says he knows immigration comes with challenges. His parents immigrated to the United States from India. His wife is from the Philippines. But Kashkari says large immigrant populations generally contribute to strong economic development.

"It's a key factor here in St. Cloud. It's a differentiator. And I'm very interested in learning how businesses, workers and families are feeling, because - and I've said it publicly before - I think immigration is a very important source of growth."

Elliot Uecker attended the town hall meeting. He's a St. Cloud State Finance major, graduating in the spring. He says the event was an eye-opener.

"It's actually really awesome to see that someone from regional government is willing to come up to St. Cloud and have these talks," Uecker says. "There are some conversations that happened here about things I didn't know. It's encouragement for me to look more into my field and understand what's going on."




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