Regulatory minefield threatens job growth

Published 9:16 am Monday, October 10, 2011

Column: Joe Maher, Guest Column

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce scored a significant victory at the 2011 Legislature with streamlining of the environmental review and permitting process. Welcome relief, right?

Joe Maher

Businesses do appreciate the change in law which, among other things, specifies that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources have a 150-day goal to issue permits. If they are not, the agency must provide the reasons.

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That said, many companies remain skeptical that the 150-day goal will actually improve the process. As one member said, “I’ve already been told that that they will reject the application as incomplete so the 150-day goal will not begin.”

The comment reinforces findings in the annual Minnesota Business Barometer Survey co-sponsored by the Minnesota Chamber and Himle Horner Inc. Respondents identified government regulations as a significant barrier to job growth.

Businesses are not asking agencies to be less thorough in their protection of our health and the environment. We only ask for a predictable process and sensible regulations to maintain our clean environment and to foster job growth via economic development. Business owners and managers do become frustrated, however, when a process that takes months in other states and countries can extend for years in Minnesota.

So what’s on the Minnesota Chamber’s radar for 2012? First, we must make sure the environmental review and permitting reform law is administered as envisioned. The Legislature and governor promised a streamlined process, and we need to make sure agencies carry that out. Two out of five respondents in the Business Barometer said their decisions to invest in Minnesota — read: create jobs — are affected by stability and predictability of state policies.

Second, policy-makers must understand that regulatory reform affects businesses in different ways. That’s best represented by this sample of comments from members at our regional policy sessions.

“Reduce the bureaucracy — make it easier to start a business.”

“Why does it take eight years to study the need for bridge replacement in one case when the I-35W bridge was rebuilt in two years?”

“Innovation — good ideas discussed but didn’t go far enough at the Legislature.”

“No oversight in rule-making and implementation — that’s where many of the problems occur.”

“New regulations for elevators, spring head locations, etc. are expensive and didn’t improve customer value.”

“Regulations need to be adaptive and flexible to the unique features of particular industries or businesses — one size does not fit all.”

The Minnesota Chamber seeks additional feedback from businesses statewide on the most important regulatory reform that the Legislature and governor could make. What could the state do to make it easier to do business in the state? Are there duplicative regulations between federal, state and local governments? What processes could be streamlined? Policy makers should use environmental review and permitting reform as a guide and address other regulatory burdens on a bipartisan basis.

The labyrinth of state regulations challenges companies of all sizes and types on a variety of fronts. And they are more than a frustration; they are a threat to the state’s economic vitality.

One of the effects of a global economy on local businesses is a global competition for investment.Companies routinely compare all costs and regulatory requirements against other states and nations. We must take steps to level the playing field if Minnesota is to have a credible chance of nurturing economic development and creating jobs.

Joe Maher is general manager of UPM, Blandin Paper Co., Grand Rapids, and chairman-elect of the Minnesota Chamber Board of Directors.