A recent commentary by Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (“DFL leaders: Here are our goals for this year’s legislative session,” March 11) outlined their key policy goals for the 2016 legislative session. Their objectives included progress on early-childhood education, transportation and economic opportunity for all.
As chief executives of large Minnesota employers, we strongly support these goals. In fact, we have funded and directed our own initiatives in each of these areas. We all understand the importance of an educated workforce, a transportation system that effectively moves people and goods, and an economy that gives everyone an opportunity to succeed.
What we do not understand is why these elected officials also chose to portray Minnesota’s business community, consisting of companies that have been partners with these very same officials to develop policies that create jobs, as an impediment to Minnesota’s success. It is not consistent with Minnesota values to celebrate the state’s economic success while denigrating the job creators and homegrown businesses that helped make it possible. In order to have a vibrant middle class, jobs are essential. Corporations create many of those jobs and are a major impetus behind economic growth.
What is it about Minnesota business and its leaders that has earned the ire of DFL leadership?
Minnesota’s business community has a legacy of corporate responsibility, community leadership and philanthropy that is unmatched in any other state. Every year, the 115 member companies of the Minnesota Business Partnership, both large and small, account for about 400,000 jobs, more than $15 billion in wages and benefits, and hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable giving. And Minnesota companies are responsible for nearly half of all charitable grants sourced in the state — from the United Way to Habitat for Humanity.
Minnesota companies also contribute $13 billion every year in direct taxes to the state and generate billions more in taxes on employee income.
Our state and its leaders should be proud of the fact that homegrown companies like Medtronic and 3M make devices that save lives, that Cargill and Land O’Lakes help feed the world, and that Ecolab and Pentair bring clean water to those who desperately need it. These companies employ our friends, neighbors and fellow Minnesotans, helping them earn a good living, raise a family and contribute to their communities.
So we take issue with the frequent, disdainful comments aimed at the Minnesota business community, and we repudiate any effort to politicize our state’s achievements or the role we played in them. Minnesota’s success is a story of hard work, determination and innovation — not a partisan or political narrative.
While Minnesota’s business community is proud of our state’s many successes, we also recognize there are significant challenges ahead. In particular, Minnesota’s achievement gap remains among the highest in the nation, threatening our economic future. We have taken action to address this by devoting resources toward preparing students to enter the workforce. General Mills and Target have partnered with the Northside Achievement Zone, pledging $6 million to help combat the achievement gap in north Minneapolis. 3M is supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs in local schools with mentoring and other services. The partnership is helping to expand effective charter schools in Minneapolis to enable them to serve more students, and it is committed to working with any organization that will put politics aside to improve educational outcomes for minority students who are being underserved by the current system. The business community is committed to ensuring that Minnesota’s children receive the educational opportunities they need to earn a respectable living and pursue their dreams.
Minnesota companies are also leading the way on workforce diversification and fostering inclusive workplaces. With programs like STEP UP and the Minneapolis TechHire initiative, companies are partnering with the public sector to ensure that students of color are given opportunities to excel in the tech field. Companies like Xcel Energy have adopted diversity and inclusion as a core value, which is clearly reflected in the company’s leadership, workforce and suppliers. And several of the state’s largest employers are regularly named Top Companies for Diversity by DiversityInc magazine.
We recognize that tough rhetoric can be part of politics, as the presidential campaign amply demonstrates. However, we believe Minnesota is better than that. As business leaders, we are proud of our strong record of setting aside political bias and forging partnerships with public officials on both sides of the aisle to sustain Minnesota’s remarkable quality of life. What we ask is to have political leaders return the favor, working with Minnesota business to strengthen our great state, while leaving political rhetoric to the pundits.
Scott Wine is chairman and CEO of Polaris Industries and chairman of the Minnesota Business Partnership. David MacLennan is chairman and CEO of Cargill Inc. and president of the Minnesota Business Partnership.