Walz visits Austin for roundtable with businesses owners

Published 12:36 pm Saturday, April 10, 2010

First District Congressman Tim Walz commended the City of Austin Thursday for its collaborative efforts such as the Hormel Institute.

Calling the research facility a worldwide leader that combines resources of the city, Mayo Clinic, the Hormel Foods Corporation and the University of Minnesota, Walz told a roundtable of area business people that he has enjoyed watching a community long anchored by a meat packing plant reinvent itself.

“I want to make sure that I’m very, very in tune with what’s going on here,” Walz said.

Friday, Walz toured Austin, talking with local business owners about their concerns regarding health care reform, regulatory agencies, availability of credit, pork barrel spending, energy and the cap-and-trade strategy, which allows facilities to buy and sell pollution credits in order to meet a national limit on greenhouse gas emissions.

Walz stopped by Jim’s SuperFresh Produce, 2101 Fourth St. NW, Donker’s Appliance, 1107 First Ave. SW and Medicap Pharmacy, 1109 W. Oakland Ave., to talk with business owners before making his way to Main Street’s Town Center for a roundtable discussion Friday morning.

Much of discussion was focused Friday on health care reform, with corporate manager of regulatory affairs for Hormel, Mark Roberts discussing the negative effect of resulting taxable subsidies on the company’s post-retirement benefits.

“Right now we’re trying to understand what the cost will be,” he told Walz. “It will put us at an economic disadvantage, compared to businesses that don’t offer this.”

Walz said he was hearing more positive responses on the legislation from small business owners.

“I’m optimistic on this. We can still change what’s bad and keep the good,” he said.

Financial regulation was also discussed, as US Bank President Dick Boerger voiced frustration with inability of community banks to lend because of tight regulations.

“We’ve got to get credit moving into community banks, and into rural areas,” Walz responded.

Tim Carroll, of Cedar River Horse Logging, discussed pending stringent trucking regulations.

“I’ve been in business 19 years, and this will take me out,” he said.

Other concerns brought up included immigration, to which Walz argued the burden of verifying citizenship should not fall on cities or employers — but rather that the government needs a new process.

“We, as a country, can do better on this… law and order is OK,” Walz said.

Dr. Zigang Dong of the Hormel Institute spent his turn to talk on thanking Congress for its $1.5 million in support of the institute.

“This is very important for us to continue to grow,” Dong said, explained the funding allows for state of the art research equipment and attracts world renowned scientists to Austin.

Walz concluded by saying he visited Austin to explain the implications of health care reform and bring any concerns — notably financial — back to Washington.

“We didn’t do a great job of getting the information out, and we need to do that now,” he said of health care details.