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Governor hears from Willmar, Minn., leaders about promoting economic growth

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WILLMAR -- Gov. Mark Dayton began his statewide tour Friday afternoon to identify opportunities for future economic growth and barriers to that growth in Minnesota's important economic sectors.

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Dayton met for more than an hour with 12 representatives of business, industry, higher education, and city and county government at the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar.

MinnWest is a privately owned, collaborative business community for innovators in bioscience, agribusiness, technology and bioenergy. It is located on the campus of the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

"This is the first (stop) so I think that signifies the importance that we attach to Willmar and central Minnesota,'' Dayton said. "It's in the heart of our state and with this agriculture technology, it's going to benefit farmers all over the state.''

According to Dayton's press office, the governor is seeking comment on what measures should be taken in the upcoming legislative session to enhance Minnesota's economic competitiveness, stimulate private sector job growth, and increase employment opportunities.

Dayton is focusing on eight sectors: forestry, bioscience, mining, agriculture technology, health care technology, information technology, the plastics and composites industry, and tourism.

The industries employ more than 395,000 Minnesotans, generate $16.3 billion in annual wages, and contribute more than $40 billion in economic activity.

Among those attending Friday's discussion was Mayor Frank Yanish who said the area needs better transportation between here and the Twin Cities.

Richard Larson, representing the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, said Willmar is probably the only regional center without a four-lane highway to the cities.

Dayton agreed that improved transportation is needed and said he heard the same comments 30 years ago when he toured with Gov. Rudy Perpich.

Dayton said he is pushing the state Department of Transportation to come up with some innovative financing systems.

Steve Salzer, MinnWest general manager, favors extending the Minnesota Angel Tax Credit. The credit provides incentives to investors or investment funds that put money into startup and emerging companies focused on high technology or new proprietary technology.

Also, Salzer asked Dayton to look at incentives offered by other states.

Ridgewater College President Doug Allen spoke in favor of forming partnerships between K-12 education and higher education, and he spoke about successful employment training programs undertaken at Ridgewater.

In a brief interview with reporters, Dayton said he received some great suggestions.

"We need to continue the JOBZ Program,'' he said. The Job Opportunity Building Zone program provides local and state tax exemptions to qualified companies that expand or relocate into targeted regions outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The program expires Dec. 31, 2015.

One industry representative said the downturn in the national economy has hurt local farm equipment production. Another said the high cost of corn is a concern to the livestock industry.

Dayton said he does not have control over the national economy. But he said the current corn price is allowing grain producers to make a good profit in the marketplace.

Dayton gave his telephone number to Jim Sandstorm, manager of the Willmar vaccine company Epitopix, after Sandstrom expressed concern about the amount of time required due to federal regulations to bring a veterinary vaccine to market.

Dayton urged Sandstrom to call after the governor indicated he might have some influence with the U.S. agriculture secretary. The U.S. Agriculture Department regulates veterinary vaccines.

"It's grown to the point where even a vaccine for cattle or pigs can take five to 10 years of development time to satisfy regulatory requirements,'' said Sandstrom in an interview.

"It's gotten to where not just small companies like Epitopix but even huge companies ... it's not worth it any more to sink that money in and know that your payback doesn't start for another 10 years.''

After the meeting, Dayton attended a "meet and greet'' event with residents at the Willmar Care Center and other local Democrats seeking election in the fall.

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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