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DEED leader: Minnesota clawing out of recession

Published 11:11am Thursday, January 10, 2013

Minnesota has made gains in recovering from the economic recession of recent years, but there is more work to be done, said the new commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Director Katie Clark Sieben speaks Wednesday at the annual Greater Jobs Inc. business luncheon. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Katie Clark Sieben was the featured speaker Wednesday at the annual Greater Jobs Inc. business luncheon.

“Minnesota companies are still troubled by a lack of access to capital, our disparities in education and income continue to widen, and the skills gap is leaving jobs unfilled in businesses across the state,” Clark Sieben told the 60 people in attendance at a banquet room at Wedgewood Cove Golf Club in Albert Lea.

On the bright side, the unemployment rate is at 5.7, two percentage points below the national average and down from 8.5, where it peaked in June 2009.

“We’ve now recovered over two-thirds of the jobs lost during the recession; Minnesota has added 55,000 jobs in the past year alone,” she said.

Dayton appointed Clark Sieben the DEED commissioner in October. She was the same age Dayton was when he became DEED commissioner — 31. She is now 32. She replaced Mark Phillips, who left to enter the private sector after 20 months on the job.

Clark Sieben was the executive director of the Minnesota Trade Office before she was DEED commissioner. She was the finance director for the Dayton campaign. She worked for five years in marketing and human resources for Target Corp. and two years with a startup wind-energy company by the name National Wind.

She said Minnesota constantly outperforms states with larger population and revenue.

“That’s because it is not all about the money,” she said.

Texas has a $200 million closing fund. Michigan has a $50 million closing fund. Minnesota, instead, offers natural resources, a skilled workforce, strong education system, innovative thinkers and places with a strong sense of community, Clark Sieben said.

At 19, Minnesota has an impressive number of Fortune 500 companies, she said. She pointed out Hormel, 3M, Target, General Mills, Medtronic, United Health Care and Cargill.

“What is most impressive is that most of these companies are home-grown, started with an innovative idea and a lot of hard work,” Clark Sieben said.

However, there are still 168,000 Minnesotans looking for work. She said that is “enough people to fill Target Field more than four times.”

She said in 2011 Dayton convened the Governor’s Job Summit, from which a strategy was developed for job creation and economic development.

She listed points that came from the summit:

• Invest in infrastructure.

• Increase exports.

• Access to capital for businesses.

• Reform government, improve services.

• Streamline permitting.

• Align education systems with employer needs.

• Close the education achievement gap.

Her goal, as commissioner, is to follow those priorities to create “the right environment for job creation and economic growth.”

She said Minnesota needs to focus on three issues:

• Working to attract, retain and grow business.

• Investing in a workforce built for 21st century jobs.

• Increasing state exports and foreign direct investments.

In other action, Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen ended his term as president of Greater Jobs Inc. and welcomed Farmers State Bank CEO Nancy Skophammer into the role.

Rasmussen asked the audience to be ambassadors for Albert Lea. He encouraged people to tout Albert Lea and its opportunities when they are out of town.

“We all must take responsibility for the growth of the community,” he said.

Greater Jobs Inc. Executive Director Dan Dorman recapped the past year’s budget and the business highlights of the past year.

Greater Jobs had a revenue total of $823,068, and expenses of $207,028, for a balance of $616,040 on the plus side.

Dorman said $608,000 of it was due to the creation of a local development organization revolving loan fund.