Dayton to hit road in search of jobs growth

He plans to tour the state for ideas to boost the horsepower of Minnesota's economic engine.

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Gov. Mark Dayton

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In a parallel to President Obama's just-finished swing through the Midwest, Gov. Mark Dayton is launching a statewide jobs tour to hear Minnesotans' ideas for spurring the state forward in job growth.

"That's the bottom line: getting Minnesota working," the governor said Wednesday. Dayton said the tour will start with a visit to Fergus Falls next Wednesday and culminate with a statewide job summit in October.

With a rough legislative session and a government shutdown in his rearview mirror, the governor said job creation will be his "number one priority for the rest of my term."

The governor's pivot to jobs, which he said has long been in the works, comes as Obama renewed his own focus on job growth. On Wednesday, Obama ended a three-day bus tour of the Midwest by announcing a plan to detail his jobs and budget ideas in September.

While Minnesota's jobless rate is higher than it was before the recession, the state is still doing better than the rest of the nation. At last report, the state's jobless rate was 6.7 percent, compared to 9.1 percent nationally.

But economists note that Minnesota's job picture is less promising than it seemed earlier this year, when the jobless rate was falling steadily.

Officials expect the rate to take a hit when July figures are announced Thursday because of the three-week government shutdown that temporarily laid off 22,000 state employees and idled as many as 3,000 government contractors.

"There will be that temporary glitch," Dayton said.

The "all-consuming" and lengthy state budget fight also took him away from the focus on jobs, the governor said.

"It obviously preoccupied me," Dayton said. Now he plans meetings all over the state -- as many as one a week. His tour will take a pause at the end of September when he travels to Japan and South Korea on a trade mission.

But Dayton said his own jobs team has already laid the groundwork for the effort, conducting more than 100 meetings across the state and asking business owners, educators, financiers and others what the state could do better.

They came up with some areas that need improvement, said Kathy Tunheim, Dayton's senior adviser for job creation.

"We need to say that we are going to try to create the terms and conditions under which business can be successful," said Tunheim.

The group, she said, heard what Minnesota businesses need -- better access to capital, coordination of skill-providers with employers' needs, infrastructure development, export expansion and a clear toolkit for economic development.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, gave the idea of Dayton's jobs focus a thumbs up.

"I hope he does a lot of listening to folks across the state," Dean said.

Dayton has said he still believes the state needs to raise taxes on the wealthy. Republicans who control the Legislature have repeatedly said such a move would be "job killing."

Before the jobs rate gets better, it will likely, however, get worse.

Steve Hine, Minnesota's Labor Market Information Office director, has said the state government shutdown, combined with the debilitating debt-ceiling debate in Washington, D.C., could add nearly a full percentage point to the July unemployment rate. The spike is expected to be short-lived.

Government and nonprofit jobs could, in addition, continue to be clipped in the months ahead in the wake of the shutdown and the eventual budget deal. Jeanne Boeh, chairwoman of Augsburg College's Economics Department, added that Minnesota's construction sector is still struggling.

Despite the slow pace of recovery, Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said Minnesota's economy remains relatively vibrant, thanks to its strong farm sector, grain exports and the robust farm equipment and truck sales that have propped up the economies of many rural communities.

How much can a governor, or even a president, do to change those macro indictors? Even Dayton admits he doesn't have a magic wand.

"Government doesn't create jobs," he said. But, he said, governors can be participants in attracting private sector development. "We want to be in the forefront of that," he added.

Staff writer Dee DePass contributed to this report. Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

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