Aiming to energize Minnesota's stagnant economic recovery, Gov. Mark Dayton will convene his first-ever statewide economic jobs summit on Tuesday with hopes of breaking apart some of the state's most persistent economic problems.
"We have to stop admiring these problems and start unpacking them and say what can be done about them," said Kathy Tunheim, Dayton's senior adviser on jobs. "We have an awful lot of things going for us, but we have to be organized to be competitive."
Dayton has toured Minnesota for months, gathering ideas and hearing suggestions about what the state can do to help businesses grow. People he met along the way will be among 700 participants gathering in downtown St. Paul to share their ideas and begin crafting solutions.
Senate Republicans have been touring the state themselves, asking Minnesotans how to improve the state's business climate. On Monday, they unveiled a proposal to save Minnesota millions of dollars in property taxes and try to reduce government bureaucracy. The proposal, in part, resurrects a plan to phase out business property taxes over the next five years.
The governor's day-long conference will focus on helping Minnesota businesses tap investment dollars, boost demand for products and bridge the bedeviling gap between the jobs available and the skills of people seeking work.
Around the state, Dayton heard from frustrated business owners who had hundreds of job openings in health care and manufacturing but could not find workers with the right skills.
On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development released a survey that showed that nearly half of Minnesota manufacturers couldn't fill positions because they lack qualified job candidates.
The 2011 Minnesota Skills Gap Survey found that 45 percent of manufacturers considered the shortage of skilled workers to be a moderate or serious problem.
State Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, was one of those discussing the Republicans' proposal on Monday.
"What we've been hearing from job creators is pretty loud and pretty clear. It is, government, please stop, give us a timeout," said the deputy Senate majority leader. "Minnesota job creators are tired and stressed out from this economy, this recession and government on all levels."
The plan to phase out business property taxes would potentially save companies $50 million the first year alone. The change could add to the state's expected budget deficit, but Republicans said it is necessary to get Minnesota businesses hiring again. Republicans also proposed a moratorium on new regulations that they say hinder Minnesota businesses.
Senate Democrats dismissed the proposal.
"The most notable element of their plan is a recycled attempt to cut corporate taxes with no guarantee businesses would use those tax cuts to create jobs," said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. The GOP, he said, had "no explanation for how they'd pay for a corporate tax cut during the worst financial crisis in our state's history."
Dayton has been open to speeding regulatory review in the past, but any plans to reduce business taxes could face steep opposition from Democrats.
Tunheim said Dayton has shown himself to be open to streamlining government and tax reform, but only after thoughtful review. The seminar includes sessions on government efficiency, lowering health care costs and tax reform. The jobs summit is a chance to start "an honest conversation about what kind of government do you want and how are you going to pay for it?" Tunheim said.
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