The business and education lobby both say they want thousands more Minnesota kids to get the quality preschool education necessary to be ready for kindergarten.
And the spring lobby-to-legislation gantlet begins this month over how to do it and how much to spend.
"We must prioritize the kids in poverty," said Art Rolnick, the retired Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank economist whose research of more than a decade concluded that getting more kids ready for school through quality preschool programs is one of the highest-returning investments taxpayers can make. Those who aren't ready often fall behind from the get-go and are more inclined as a group to drop out, get pregnant or wind up in trouble with the law. And they are disproportionately impoverished kids.
"I'm going to try and meet with the governor on this," Rolnick said last week. "Even President Obama says we should do it for all kids but his budget focuses on low-income kids, those who live at 200 percent of [household] poverty level or less. Universal is great, but we don't have that kind of money."
Rolnick, a part-time fellow at the University of Minnesota public affairs institute, also is affiliated with Parent Aware for School Readiness (www.pasrmn.org), a business-backed advocacy group that grew out of his research and years of testing and private scholarship funding around the state.
Over the past several years, Dayton and the Legislature awarded more than $45 million in scholarships to needy families.
Parent Aware, backed by the Minnesota Business Partnership, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and some community groups, wants Dayton to spend about $150 million annually, about $100 million less than is budgeted over the next couple of years, but to focus on needy 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers and let the parents choose public or private certified educators.
Dayton's budget currently calls for instituting universal preschool learning for 4-year-olds through public school districts. That's favored by the Minnesota Department of Education and Education Minnesota, the teachers union.
The business lobby reasoning is that most middle-class-to-affluent kids are ready to go thanks to their parents who prepare them, often by paying for preschool. But that's not the case in inner cities and some rural communities. And Dayton's proposed funding won't cover all preschoolers in public schools. The gaps could leave out thousands of low-income kids.
"If after helping all low-income kids the Legislature still feels it has more resources to invest in early education, then a flexible universal prekindergarten approach absolutely makes sense," Rolnick said. "But low-income kids under 5 must be the top priority."
The issue is not necessarily partisan, although Democrats tend to favor widespread funding. DFL Rep. Joe Mullery of north Minneapolis, a Democrat who supports a focus on low-income kids, told constituents last week that he had a positive meeting with Dayton on the subject.
Hannah Barnstable, the former investment banker who with her husband started Seven Sundays, an unprocessed-muesli breakfast cereal business, several years ago, has raised an initial round of outside capital of $500,000 from individuals and Good Harbor Capital.
Barnstable said last week the additional equity was needed largely to finance an estimated quadrupling of sales this year, as last year's test with Target has moved into an all-stores rollout with the big retailer.
"We're at an exciting point," said Barnstable. "We feel viable. Retailers have been looking for the next thing in breakfast cereal."
Seven Sundays is adding administrative and salespeople and ramping up production at Nikola's Foods in Bloomington.
Principals Ann Ferreira and Molly Simmons of Edina-based Good Harbor have joined the board of Seven Sundays, which remains majority-owned by founder Barnstable and her husband.
Retailers have made room on their shelves for granolas and new types of "natural" cereals to jump-start commodity sales of the stagnant industry, which also has food giants starting or buying to get into the niche category.
Uponor invests in Apple Valley plant
Apple Valley-based Uponor North America, part of the Finnish firm, plans an $18 million renovation and 88,000-square-foot expansion of its office and manufacturing space.
By December, when construction is complete, Uponor will have a footprint of more than 650,000 square feet, about the size of five Target stores, including a Lakeville plant, and more than over 450 employees.
Bill Gray, Uponor North America president, said business is strong for the company's flexible plastic tubing that is used for plumbing, fire sprinkler and radiant heating and cooling, primarily in the residential construction business.
"We're closing a great first quarter, even though we had weather issues," Gray said last week.
The company, which has hired about 130 people locally over the past three years, expects to add 82 over three years in the new plants.
Gray said the company is writing a check for the $18 million expansion, but can be reimbursed by up to $2.8 million by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development if it meets agreed-upon hiring goals. He said the incentive was a factor in expanding locally, including a central location and talented employees.
Minnesota credit unions report 2014 growth
Minnesota credit union credit growth slightly outpaced that of the industry nationally, thanks to strong auto and business loan growth in 2015, the Minnesota Credit Union Network (MnCUN) reported last month.
Member business lending grew 12.9 percent, outpacing the national result of 12.4 percent, according to final data reported by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
Year-over-year loan growth was 6.6 percent. And loans and other assets grew by nearly 5 percent over the year. Deposits rose 4 percent.
"These loans are helping Minnesota businesses, consumers and communities thrive over the long term," CEO Mark Cummins of MnCUN said in a statement.
Salonek breakfast talk at St. Kate's
CEO Tom Salonek of Intertech will discuss how to increase employee engagement to kick off a breakfast series April 21 about business values at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, sponsored by C-Change Communications and Magis Ventures. There is a charge. More information: www.c-changecomm.com/breakfast-of-values-champions.