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Officials expect modest growth in west central Minnesota's economy

WILLMAR — Businesses in southwestern Minnesota expect modest growth in the year ahead, down from what they enjoyed in 2014 and the start of 2015.

The slowdown in the world’s economy, low commodity prices and a strong U.S. dollar that makes it more difficult to sell goods overseas will keep the region’s economy in check.

One other factor could limit growth too: The ability to find workers.

Those are among the messages delivered Monday to members of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce by Bill Blazar, director of Minnesota Grow and the senior vice president for public affairs with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Since 2003, Minnesota Grow has conducted one-on-one visits with cooperating businesses throughout Minnesota to learn of their investment and workforce plans, and concerns.

Blazar and his team visited 72 businesses in southwestern Minnesota, 18 of them in Willmar, as part of their fact-finding mission for this year’s outlook.

Businesses in the Twin Cities are expecting more growth in 2016 than those in Greater Minnesota, according to Blazar. It’s because a larger share of rural businesses rely on exports.

“Believe it or not, your fate depends more on that world economy now than at any time in the past,’’ Blazar said.

Of the businesses visited by Grow Minnesota, 57 percent statewide and 54 percent in southwest Minnesota said they expected to make significant investments in the coming year. The level of innovation, or introduction of new products and services, and investments in new facilities or equipment being reported is down from a 2014 peak. It’s down, but not dramatically, he added.

When Blazar asks businesses what holds them back from expansion in Minnesota, taxes are the number one topic. Minimum wage issues, and the recent debate on paid sick and parental leave are cited often as well.

Businesses are reporting a growing difficulty in finding workers. Blazar encouraged local chamber members to continue to address the workforce issue.

“Having an adequate supply of workers is probably the number one resource that you need to have (for) this community’s economy (to) continue to change and grow,’’ he said.

Tom Cherveny

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

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