Keeping Minn. competitive in a changing economy

Published 10:38 am Thursday, March 31, 2016

By Doug Loon

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President

As the new president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, a top personal priority has been to hit the road. For six months, I’ve been crisscrossing our great state, asking questions and listening. It’s been both encouraging and energizing.

Email newsletter signup

I’ve gained an even greater appreciation of how Minnesota’s economic fortunes are interconnected. My conversations have identified actions necessary to ensure Minnesota is ready for the future.

Our job at the Minnesota Chamber is to help Minnesota businesses — large and small, all types and sizes — change, compete, grow and excel. In short, we want to ensure Minnesota is ready for our next opportunities. We believe firmly that our system of economic liberty and our society’s promise of a fair return on effort and investment make all of our lives better.

The good news is that Minnesota overall continues to benefit from a relatively healthy and diverse economic structure. Minnesota employers traditionally have been an optimistic, innovative and dedicated group. People want to stay here.

We cannot ignore the economic headwinds, however. The Twin Cities is about as prosperous as any major metropolitan area in the country, but other areas are not. The Iron Range is hurting, agribusiness shows signs of weakening, and manufacturing is struggling.

We are collectively challenged to chart a path to maintain our momentum and a vibrant economy. Competitive pressures are constant and everchanging in our interconnected world. Realistic assessment of our strengths and weaknesses has never been more important to our long-term prosperity.

An important first step is objective measurement of where we are. To that end, the Minnesota Chamber is inaugurating our Minnesota Business Benchmarks – This collection of key economic indicators sizes up our business climate — providing comprehensive and impartial data on Minnesota’s economic competitiveness. We will use these measures to identify and advocate for both private-sector and public-sector solutions.

Among the key takeaways in our report:

Minnesota’s quality of life and talented workforce is the envy of many.

There are mixed results for Minnesota’s overall business and economic climate.

Too many indicators show Minnesota’s cost of doing business as not competitive.

Minnesota is improving in key infrastructure areas of transportation and educational attainment, with more work to do.

Policymakers and business leaders must work together to build on the state’s strengths and minimize its weaknesses. We must identify those statewide actions that make Minnesota ready for economic change, opportunity and growth.

Much of our focus will be on state government. What occurs inside the Capitol hallways in St. Paul matters greatly to our economic standing, because Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature can — and do — make strategic decisions that affect the ability of individuals to start, run and grow a business.

Three key principles should be at the forefront of public policy to advance economic prosperity for all.

•We must improve the overall competitiveness for all businesses.

•We must provide quality government services and infrastructure at a competitive price through efficient and effective spending that focuses on specific outcomes.

•We must remove and/or lower uncompetitive taxes and regulatory burdens that hamper innovation and investment.

The Minnesota Chamber is promoting an aggressive agenda at the Legislature. By cautiously using the surplus, we can invest in our economic and physical infrastructure by passing both strategic business tax relief and sustained investment in roads, bridges and transit. We must pursue initiatives in the public and private sectors to better synchronize workforce skills with the needs of the changing economy. Access to a strong broadband network and providing investment tools for workforce housing development will help all regions of the state to grow.

We will engage on important topics like workplace regulations. We urge policymakers not to enact one-size-fits-all mandates that can reduce flexibility for employers and employees alike. Let’s instead look to a private-sector solution that illuminates best practices and set clear goals for putting them to use in our workplaces. In addition, we’ll work with the State Council on Disability and Human Rights Commission to make sure small and midsized businesses have the time needed to comply with accessibility laws and avoid expensive lawsuits that can end up shutting these employers down.

The Minnesota Chamber has a strong tradition as a problem-solver. We deliver solutions to ensure that Minnesota is ready for change and ready to grow. That benefits all Minnesotans.