Gov. candidate pushes for business friendliness

Published 5:23 pm Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove and candidate for governor visits Austin Friday afternoon. Kevin Coss/

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove and candidate for governor visits Austin Friday afternoon. Kevin Coss/

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, has interstate competition on the mind.

“You guys are real close to the Iowa border,” he said during a visit to Austin. “It’s about economic growth.”

The former House Speaker and current gubernatorial candidate spoke about the dangers Minnesota faces of losing business to neighboring states during a campaign stop Friday afternoon at Piggy Blues BBQ. Zellers is one of several Republican candidates vying for Gov. Mark Dayton’s office in the upcoming 2014 election.

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Minnesota, he said, should be a “Mecca for new entrepreneurs, business owners, to bring that startup here, rather than picking Sioux Falls, Iowa or, God forbid, Wisconsin.”

“It’s not just enough to keep a job,” Zellers said. “A lot of folks I talk to are worried about their careers staying here.”

Taxes are partially to blame, but regulation stands in the way of business friendliness also, Zellers said.

“If it takes us six months longer to get a permit done than it does in Wisconsin, if it takes us two years longer to site a building … it’s going to make us noncompetitive,” he said.

Zellers pointed to the state’s aging infrastructure as another large challenge facing Minnesota. Roads, bridges and wastewater treatment facilities across the state are coming of age, he said,

“We’re going to have to be smart with our dollars,” he said. “All these roads in our state need to be repaired. We need to take care of that structure we have first.”

Massive costs would accompany fixing roads left too long to disrepair, he said, compared with the relatively small cost of upkeep.

Zeller also spoke of education, as Minnesota’s achievement gap is a crucial area for change.

“If we’re leaving 30 or 40 percent of our students behind, not graduating and not getting a quality education, that’s our future workforce,” he said. “Let’s demand excellence.”

Zellers said his experience coming from the middle class is what sets him apart from Dayton and the other republican candidates: Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville; Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and Orono businessman Scott Honour. When he was laid off from his position in public relations, Zellers said he and his wife Kim, who teaches at a public school, had to sit down and discuss what to do next to support themselves and their two children.

“That’s who we are, that’s what I live everyday,” he said.

Many Minnesotans can relate, Zellers said.

“I went out not so long ago to find a deal on a set of 20-inch Cooper tires,” he said. “I’m about 99 percent sure Gov. Dayton never had to do that.”

Zellers grew up on his family’s farm in Devils Lake, N.D., and graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1993. He lives in Maple Grove with his family.