Slow 2016 growth predicted at Grow Minnesota! event 

Published 10:29 am Friday, December 11, 2015

By William Morris

Owatonna People’s Press

OWATONNA — The verdict is in on the Minnesota economy in 2015, says Bill Blazar of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

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“It’s a better start than finish,” he said. “It’s still growing, but not at the rate you’d have seen eight to 10 months ago.”



Blazar, the state chamber’s Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development, was in Owatonna to speak at Wednesday’s Grow Minnesota! annual luncheon, this year held at Daikin Applied Americas Inc. Present were dozens of local business and government leaders gathered to discuss the current and future climate for businesses around the state.

In his presentation, Blazar stressed that each year’s growth depends largely on decisions made two or three years before. Based on those metrics, he said businesses can expect more of the same in 2016: slow growth hampered by the global economy and limited number of new products, investment plans and hires in the pipeline.

Grow Minnesota! is a chamber program designed to help retain current companies and remove obstacles for them to grow.

“We are still a homegrown economy,” Blazar said. “We rely on individual companies to start and then grow in Minnesota.”

Among the statistics he shared were the program’s annual number of visits and services provided to Minnesota businesses, including visiting 31 Owatonna companies and providing assistance to 15. That assistance could range from interceding with a state regulator to connecting a business with particular challenges to another company with similar experiences.

As with many business development conferences, much of the information revolved around workforce shortages, with almost three quarters of businesses saying they were having trouble finding qualified workers. Blazar called on businesses to work with K-12 education systems and colleges to improve worker preparation, but also to take a hard look at their own hiring practices.

“I think we’re seeing a growing number of businesses say, ‘I want to hire young people, say out of high school, get them into the world of business, and then get them into an education program while they’re working,’” he said.

Director of Operations Craig Vastaas of Daikin, which was hosting the annual luncheon for the first time, also spoke to attendees, showing some of the products and metrics that he said make Daikin the world’s no. 1 producer of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. Attendees also were able to take a tour of the factory floor after the presentations wrapped up.

“Key skills for us here are [computer numerical control equipment] experience, brazing, and having skilled workers for blueprint reading and knowledge,” he said. “Like many of you are probably experiencing. we’re having trouble attracting workers. We’re developing more in-house training programs to respond to that.”

Wednesday’s luncheon was hosted by the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. Chamber President Jennifer Libby said this is the 15th year the local luncheon has been held.

—Distributed by the Associated Press.