Business community will advocate for jobs

Published 8:53 am Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Column: Andrea Walsh, Guest Column

The 2011 Legislature is fast approaching, and lawmakers have their charge. Minnesotans expect jobs and the economy to be at the forefront of policy-makers’ attention.

Andrea Walsh

Minnesota is at a crossroads. The costs of government services are outpacing available revenues, and we aren’t getting the outcomes Minnesotans expect. As a state we have projected biennial revenue of $32 billion — 5-percent growth over the last biennium, and yet we face a large budget deficit because state spending is projected to grow to nearly $39 billion.

Beyond a daunting state budget deficit, other dynamics threaten job growth and economic security. Too many Minnesota students fail to graduate from high school and, of those entering the higher education system, a disturbing number need remedial education. A lengthy and cumbersome permitting process has forced business expansions out of the state. Energy costs continue to rise.

To address jobs and the economy, policy-makers must tackle these issues collectively. It will take bold and innovative solutions, and there is no quick fix. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce recognizes the challenge and stands ready to help address these issues so our state can be competitive in the global economy.

We believe four priorities must be addressed to ensure a healthy environment for jobs. The best news is that most of these recommendations can advance with little or no additional state spending

Competitive tax policy: The state needs to change the way it sets the budget by prioritizing spending — ranking the value and effectiveness of programs and then matching them with available money. Policy-makers must find efficiencies in the delivery of public programs and services, and as a result lower the cost for all taxpayers. Simply raising taxes — especially in light of an already poor business climate — isn’t a solution that will result in more jobs or a stronger economy.

Classroom achievement and more qualified workers: Legislators need to support qualified and effective teachers in every classroom — aligning with the Bush Foundation’s initiative with selected colleges and universities to radically reform the way teachers are recruited, prepared, placed and supported. We also need to reinstate the math standard for the Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma, and continue the reading standard. Minnesota can ill-afford to graduate students without world-class skills, and these steps will help ensure a capable workforce for the future. This is increasingly important since Minnesota’s population is aging, and the state demographer projects significant workforce shortages.

Environmental permitting: Policy-makers need to streamline the review and permitting processes to ensure that businesses can locate and expand in Minnesota. Many businesses of all sizes and types need a variety of permits from state agencies if they wish to grow in Minnesota. The process today is cumbersome, costly and lacks certainty. Many other states have figured out how to create a “one-stop” shop to encourage expansion while still protecting health and the environment. Minnesota can and should do the same

Reliable and competitively priced electricity: We need to remove the state’s bans on consideration of new nuclear and coal-fired power plants. We also should revisit current mandates and more broadly reassess long-term requirements and options for meeting those needs. The cost of electricity has increased appreciably in recent years. For example, the four investor-owned utilities have had nine general rate cases in the last five years. As technology becomes more important in everyday business operations, electricity reliability is more important than ever. We need a sustainable approach.

These four priorities, acted on together, will produce a more stable state economy, an efficient and effective regulatory environment, a more capable workforce for the future, and reliable energy long term. Minnesota companies will be better equipped to then do their part — create jobs to further innovate, successfully sell products and services, and meet customer demands.

It is time to take a series of steps to position Minnesota as a place that companies want to operate in, and an attractive place to find and keep a job. Policy-makers should act now to forge policies that will preserve and create new jobs in Minnesota.

Andrea Walsh is executive vice president and chief marketing officer for HealthPartners and chairwoman of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.