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Renville Co., Minn., businesses tell Klobuchar gridlock in D.C. felt across heartland

John Baumgartner, president of Baumgartner Environics, tells Sen. Amy Klobuchar that the lack of a clear and long-term fiscal policy is bigger impediment to business growth than taxes. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

OLIVIA — Political gridlock in Washington is taking an economic toll on farm country, representatives of agricultural businesses in Renville County told U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., during a stop Monday in Olivia.

The lack of a farm bill has forced Corn Capital Innovations of Olivia to put decisions on expanding its staff on hold, Joel Mathiowetz, director of growth with the consulting and risk management company, told the senator. He said it’s hard to invest in additional staff when there is so much uncertainty.

Mathiowetz said rural areas are struggling with a “brain drain’’ as young people leave for opportunities in urban areas. The uncertainty about farm policy makes it all the harder to recruit and retain talented young people. “It’s a bigger challenge than I ever imagined it would be,’’ Mathiowetz told the senator.

Although there is capital available, businesses are hesitant to invest when so many uncertainties exist about the federal deficit and budget, said John Baumgartner, president of Baumgartner Environics of Olivia, an environmental products company for agriculture. He said the “lack of a clear and long-term fiscal policy” is a bigger impediment to business development than taxes.

Klobuchar said she was disappointed by the action to extend the farm bill into this year, and to not approve a new five-year bill.

She holds out some hope.

There is the support needed in the Senate, and its version of the farm bill offers $24 billion in deficit reduction. The importance of agricultural exports to the national economy and keeping rural America on a consistent course are understood in Congress, she said.

The senator said she believes these selling points — and the pressure of the looming debt ceiling limit — may still make it possible to get a bill through the House.

Her Renville County hosts also thanked the senator for her role in fending off attempts to end the federal sugar program, but asked if future challenges are coming.

Klobuchar said the sugar industry needs to reach out and make its case for the jobs and economic benefits provided by the program. “I still feel we should hang in (there). I am more concerned about the overall farm bill,’’ she said. If a farm bill can be passed, she believes it will retain the program.

Klobuchar said that she believes the country needs to adopt a 10-year deficit reduction plan, and not do it all at once. She also believes there is lots of middle ground for budget reductions. She cited as examples where agreements could be forged the possibility of delaying Social Security for one year for persons now age 28 and younger; the costs for a new, F-22 Raptor fighter jet; and ending tax loopholes that serve to export jobs.    

Klobuchar heard support Monday for designation of the Minnesota River as a national blueway, and heard pleas to maintain rural development funding and infrastructure investments in rural areas.

She also heard that Americans are willing to share the burden of reducing the deficit and balancing the budget. “Don’t be afraid to ask the American people to make a sacrifice as long as there is a clear path to a better future,’’ said Matthew Baumgartner, general manager with Baumgartner Environics.

Said Klobuchar in response: “As long as they know exactly where that money is going and (it’s) going to something worthwhile like reducing the debt, I agree.’’

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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