Pawlenty turns attention to economy

Noting he'd been in the Northland twice in one week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty seemed ready to put the Legislative session behind him and focus on future economic growth.

Noting he'd been in the Northland twice in one week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty seemed ready to put the Legislative session behind him and focus on future economic growth.

Speaking at the DECC Thursday, Pawlenty announced he will lead a trade mission to Canada in September, in hopes of nailing a bigger share of that county's biotech and medical industries market.

He said Canada is Minnesota's No. 1 export market, bigger than Japan, Ireland and China combined. The mission will focus on Quebec, which leads Canada's biotechnology industry. The trip will coincide with a world conference on medical technology.

"We'd like to capture the attention of Canadian companies," Pawlenty said. "The best and first market for Minnesota products has more often been Canada."

Last year that nation bought about $2.4 billion worth of Minnesota products and sold the state about $3 billion of Canadian goods.


Pawlenty announced his first trade mission during a speech at Export Minnesota Day, held Thursday in Duluth. The second annual event, sponsored by the Minnesota Trade Office, attracted about 175 business people from around the state.

It offered a chance to meet state trade officials along with public and private experts in exporting. For example, attorney Brett Visount Bidjou, who advises businesses on dealing with Caribbean nations, explained that that part of the world offers much more than beaches -- it is rich in economic opportunities as well.

"In today's economy, the export market is more important than ever," said Mayor Gary Doty. "Canada is the U.S.'s largest trade partner. The challenge is for us to make it work in Duluth."

The event also recognized the winner of the Governor's International Trade Award. The honor went to the Cortec Corporation, a White Bear Lake-based manufacturer of corrosion protection products.

The company, with annual revenues of $25 million, was started by Croatian immigrant Boris Miksic, who recalled his friendship with the late Gov. Rudy Perpich and his many fellow countryman who now live on the Iron Range.

Picking up that thread, Pawlenty recalled playing hockey on a Croatian club sponsored team and then giving up a treasured Croatian Club hockey jersey as a peace offering after a nasty tiff with Range legislator Tom Rukavina.

However, he said, Rukavina came up to him one day saying the jersey was too long, but the DFLer would wear it as a nightie: A vision Pawlenty said still makes him shudder.

"It's difficult to do business locally anymore," said Miksic, who exports to more than 70 countries. "If you focus on a narrow geographic market, the big guys are going to get you."


He said the 114-employee company plans to remain in Minnesota.

Pawlenty also recognized and later toured Moline Machinery of Duluth, which manufacturers commercial baking equipment, along with Ikonics Corporation and Flatwater Fleet. He said about half of Moline's sales are exports.

The governor pointed out that manufacturing accounts for more than half of Minnesota's estimated $17 billion in exports. But he bemoaned the fact that fewer than 3 percent of Minnesota companies are exporters. "We need to change that -- in the global age there is the potential to increase imports," he said.

The governor said that with e-commerce and other innovations, Minnesota geography is no longer a disadvantage.

Pawlenty said his administration has even looked to China as a possible market for taconite. He also hopes there will be some northeastern Minnesota applications for tax-free zones to create new jobs.

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