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Minnesota and Willmar Chambers of Commerce encouraged by Dems’ desire to work with business community

WILLMAR — A spokesman for Minnesota’s largest business advocacy organization is encouraged by Democratic leaders who say they want to work with the business community on policies that create private-sector jobs.

“Our message is we really are encouraged by what we’re hearing from legislators to pay attention to the economy,’’ says Jim Pumarlo, director of communications for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

“We don’t think a single legislator wants to harm the economy, disrupt the recovery. It’s still pretty fragile out there. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and help,’’ said Pumarlo.

He was referring to comments made last week by Senate Majority Leader-elect Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and House Speaker-designate Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, during a meeting with the Minnesota Chamber’s Board of Directors.

Democrats retained control of the governor’s office and gained control of both the House and Senate following the November general election. The last time a single party controlled the executive and legislative branches was in 1990.

“This year’s election, everybody ran on the theme of jobs, jobs, jobs and the economy and we’re there. We’re ready to engage in the debate,’’ Pumarlo told the Tribune. “We think that that’s our trademark at the Chamber, to grow private-sector jobs, and we really welcome being a partner in that initiative.’’

Pumarlo said the state Chamber will focus on six top issues: strengthening education and the workforce; reforming spending and taxation; health care; energy; environmental regulations; and election reform.

Pumarlo said the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce is among about 40 local chambers in the state Chamber federation that formally adopt the legislative priorities.

“Between the federation and our 2,400 members, we help bring this unified voice for taking this agenda to the Capitol,’’ said Pumarlo.

Dave Baker, a state Chamber board member and local motel and restaurant owner, said the discussion with Bakk and Thissen was good. Baker said Bakk made the statement that Democrats have enough votes to enact almost anything, but they don’t want to do so without the Chamber’s support.

“That means they’re going to listen to us,’’ Baker said. “We’re the ones who are out there every day pounding the pavement, trying to figure out how to create new things with our entrepreneur spirit and I think they see that that’s the backbone — Minnesota’s economy is the little business guy, the small folks — that if I can start a new cruise line business and create five new jobs, that’s kind of a big deal and I think they’re getting that message.’’

Baker was also encouraged by what he heard at a meeting that he, Willmar Chamber President Ken Warner, and Minnesota Chamber President David Olson had with District 17B Rep.-elect Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, and District 17 Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City.

Baker said Koenen cares about the area and he praised Sawatzky for listening to his concerns about not knowing what will happen with health care issues and what changes he will have to make in his business model to survive.

“The rules are still fluid, still moving,’’ he said.

“We as a Minnesota Chamber Board realize they’re going to find new revenue. It’s coming. We just want to be at the table so that they understand what revenues will really hurt and what revenues won’t hurt quite so bad to a business standpoint,’’ Baker said.

The Chamber says changing demographics and globalization demand forward-looking state policies.

By 2018, 70 percent of jobs in Minnesota will require some postsecondary training. Minnesota has one of the widest achievement gaps in the country between whites and minorities, the Chamber said, and an increasing number of Minnesota students are on the wrong side of the gap.

The Chamber said the rate of the state’s revenue growth is projected to slow from an average of 6.8 percent in 2001 to 3.9 percent in 2033, according to the State Budget Trends Commission. Between 2008 and 2033, health care costs alone are expected to grow 8.5 percent each year. “This growth cannot be sustained by increasing already high business and personal tax burdens,’’ the Chamber said.

More Minnesotans will require government services while there are fewer workers to pay taxes to provide the services. The ratio of those requiring services to those paying for services will increase by 33 percent during the next 25 years.

Also, the Chamber said Minnesota businesses are global competitors. Businesses compare costs and regulations for operating in other states and nations when deciding whether to stay, expand or locate in Minnesota.

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