The Minnesota Chamber last week celebrated an important milestone — 110 years of advocating for an energized business community that improves the lives of all Minnesotans. Reflecting on our long history of helping our members grow Minnesota, it’s clear that helping to spur long-term economic vibrancy by creating economic opportunity is as important today as it was all those years ago.
Each year, we compile the Minnesota Business Benchmarks, an analysis of Minnesota’s rankings on key economic indicators. This year’s findings illustrate the strength of our talented and educated workforce. The report shows how we continue to shine as an innovation state, which, when combined with our capable workforce, has propelled our economy forward. It illustrates how we continue to make progress on infrastructure improvements to bring efficiency to our state’s transportation networks.
But the report also identifies serious challenges. Competitiveness and affordability are frequent red flags affecting the ability of Minnesota to attract investment, entrepreneurship and talent. For example:
• Minnesota has seen a slight improvement in tax rankings but is still in the five highest tax rates for both corporate and individual taxes.
• Other costs of doing business — ranging from rising prices for electricity to employer-sponsored health insurance costs — chip away at the bottom lines of big and small companies.
• Minnesota remains in the middle of the pack for overall cost of living, but shortages in child care and workforce housing are increasing concerns.
Our challenges are capped by changes affecting the state’s crown jewel — our talented, reliable workforce. It is not news that employers across our state cannot find the workers they need. A strong economy, demographics, migration and far too many students not completing high school will leave Minnesota 239,000 workers short by 2020.
All of this sets the table for a robust legislative session.
We must make sure our tax climate supports long-term success. Use federal conformity to enact pro-growth reforms to reduce taxes where Minnesota is most uncompetitive on both individuals and businesses. Be selective and strategic on where to increase government spending.
We must ensure that quality health care is affordable. Enhance the ability of private employers to provide insurance to employees. Ensure that public health programs are sustainable; do not increase government’s role in health care.
We must protect the right of employers to develop wage and benefit packages that best suit the distinctive needs of companies and employees. The trend of some local governments enacting local wage and benefit mandates on private employers is not the same as locally enacted smoking bans. Employee benefits are far more complicated, especially considering the mobile, global nature of today’s workplace.
We should ensure sustained and strategic transportation investment by broadening funding for roads and bridges. Resolve long-term funding challenges for the metro bus system.
We must accelerate private-sector workforce efforts, including the Minnesota Chamber’s Business Education Networks, to help employers attract and retain the skilled workers they need to compete. Redirect existing state dollars to fund effective programs that meet the needs of the changing economy and employers.
The Legislature will convene shortly with many newly elected officials. The Business Benchmarks is a great tool to engage all Minnesotans in constructive conversations on how our state can remain competitive in today’s ever-changing global economy. The report identifies opportunities to build on our strengths as well as challenges to minimize our weaknesses. On behalf of the Chamber Federation statewide, we look forward to working with Gov.-elect Tim Walz and all lawmakers in enacting public policy to grow Minnesota together.
Doug Loon is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Matt Kilian, president of the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, and Audra Shaneman, president and CEO of the New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce, serve on the Minnesota Chamber board of directors and represent the approximately 45 local chambers that make up the Minnesota Chamber Federation.