Column: Minnesota’s economy has turned a corner; we need to ensure that it reaches the whole stateMinnesota is finally turning the corner. In August, the state added 12,200 jobs, meaning we’ve finally returned to the employment levels we were at before the 2008 Great Recession.
By: Erik Simonson, for the Budgeteer News
Minnesota is finally turning the corner. In August, the state added 12,200 jobs, meaning we’ve finally returned to the employment levels we were at before the 2008 Great Recession.
According to the Star Tribune, we’ve restored 127,200 private sector jobs to the Minnesota economy since Jan. 1, 2010. That included a 34.5 percent increase in mining and logging jobs and an 18.4 percent increase in the administrative, support and waste management sector.
But we need to keep this recovery going, and it absolutely must be a recovery across the state, not just limited to the metro area.
The 2013 legislature took a good first step. Previous legislatures either were unable to make new investments in economic development or were stymied by a short-sighted executive branch.
We know, despite the promising number of late, that our economic engine is still in first gear. We have to get into fourth.
That’s why we are providing almost $100 million specifically for economic development throughout the state. The best tool we have is the Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF). It has a proven track record of creating new jobs and — just as important — keeping existing jobs in the state.
Take Polaris Industries in Wyoming. Because of a $400,000 MIF loan, it is adding as many as 115 new jobs through a 144,000 square-foot expansion at its research and development facility. Or right here in Duluth: AAR Aircraft Services is opening an aircraft maintenance facility at the airport. The company’s clients include Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and other commercial and cargo carriers. This project was made possible in part by a $1 million MIF loan. AAR Aircraft Services expects to employ 225 to 250 people at the Duluth facility, paying up to $80,000 per year.
Our Jobs Bill also provides $24 million in funding for the Job Creation Fund. It replaces the failed JOBZ program. Rather than pitting Minnesota cities against other Minnesota cities for economic development aid, the Jobs Creation Fund includes financial incentives and needed accountability measures to help spark job growth.
We also gave Minnesota employers their largest tax cut in history ($346 million) by reducing the rate they pay to fund the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The Jobs Bill also allocated funding for three more Trade Offices, bolstering our overseas presence significantly.
But this is only a start. We need to do much more to compete in a 21st-century global market and ensure that all of Minnesota shares in the benefits.
One project that must go forward is the Northern Lights Express. This high-speed rail line would connect Duluth to the Twin Cities with planned stops in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, Hinckley, and Superior, Wisconsin.
Northern Lights would just be part of a reimagining of transportation in the upper Midwest. High-speed light rail should connect obvious destinations — St. Cloud, Moorhead, Chicago, Milwaukee, Rochester and even eventually St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver. By doing this, we make business easier to conduct in these regional and national hubs. And by acting quickly, we can take advantage of the Obama administration’s positive attitude about high-speed rail.
The cost is estimated to be between $800 million to $950 million and would take five to six years to complete. But the federal government is expected to cover 80 percent of the cost of the undertaking.
Education is the fuel that runs our economic engine. The 2013 legislature made historic investments in our children’s schools — from preschool to postsecondary.
That’s a start. But we need to think of new ways of utilizing our classrooms as tools for economic growth. One way, I believe, is by creating a partnership between our business community and our school systems. Competing in the 21st century requires mastery in areas like science, math, physics and chemistry. Reading, writing and arithmetic aren’t enough anymore. A partnership between business and schools could identify students who are gifted in these areas and direct them toward the necessary courses to prepare them to contribute to the state’s future. And expanding our base of talent will tell companies that Minnesota is the place to do business in the 21st century.
We’re on the road back. We’re making the right moves to continue our upward trend. With some wise planning for the future, we can make Minnesota — all of Minnesota — a global economic powerhouse.
Erik Simonson (DFL) is the Minnesota state representative for district 7B.