With Gov. Mark Dayton out of state on Wednesday on a trip wooing jobs, his staffers back in Minnesota were defending the mystery around the travels.
Before the trip, Dayton's office said that the governor would be out of town in pursuit of a potential economic development opportunity but did not release any details about the company or state he would visit.
"He is going to visit a company that is considering expanding in Minnesota or another state," Chief of Staff Tina Smith said Wednesday. "He will go anywhere or do anything he can to grow jobs in Minnesota. So that's what he is doing today."
The governor flew on a commercial flight with his commissioner of Employment and Economic Development and a DEED staff member to his mystery location. He is expected to return to Minnesota Wednesday afternoon.
Deputy chief of staff Bob Hume said that Dayton had three options as the trip approached: reveal nothing and take the chance that something would leak out about it; not travel in pursuit of jobs; or, release limited information about the trip, which could raise more questions. Hume said Dayton "chose to be as transparent as he possibly could."
"It's always going to be a balance between his ability to do his job, which in this case is to bring jobs to Minnesota, and be as transparent as he possibly can in terms of where he is going and what he is doing and we feel like we accomplished that today," Hume said.
Hume said he would not release any other details including whether the potential deal would involve a state subsidy, where Dayton was going or the size of the potential deal.
Dayton, a former economic development commissioner himself, is well versed in the dance of job wooing and as governor has pushed the state to offer large subsidies to companies designed to net economic development.
This year, with Dayton's backing, Minnesota set up a half a billion subsidy to expand the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and approved a multimillion subsidy for Baxter International, a medical company, to expand in Brooklyn Park. In communications with state officials and lawmakers the deal had been called only "Project Fern," because officials had agreed to keep the name of the company private while they worked on providing it breaks to develop in Minnesota.
Dan McElroy, who was DEED commissioner under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, said confidentiality is standard practice for many development deals.
"It was often a condition of our getting an at bat," said McElroy, who also served as Pawlenty's chief of staff. He said when the state was working with AGCO on a possibility Jackson expansion, they were asked to keep it confidential. There were other deals that did not come to fruition that were also kept secret as the state was wooing.
McElroy said he did not recall an instance of Pawlenty traveling secretly to cultivate new state business but, "in a New York minute I would have put him on an airplane," if he thought there was a deal he could help land.
Both McElroy and Bill Blazer, senior vice president at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said the potential deal would have to be significant for Dayton to personally travel.
McElroy said if he were in charge, it would likely take the possibility of hundreds of jobs. Blazer, who said he did not know where the governor had traveled, also raised the possibility that the wooing could be for a business that would give Minnesota a strategic foothold in an industry.
Minnesota governors have long wrestled with how much detail to reveal about their schedules and over the years have picked differing levels of disclosure.
Both former Govs. Tim Pawlenty and Jesse Ventura occasionally traveled out of state without alerting the public. In part as a reaction to that, the daily schedule that Dayton releases to the media includes details of any public events he has and says "Governor Mark Dayton is in Minnesota, but there are no public events on his schedule" if he is not traveling but not in the public eye.