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Chamber survey: Hiring woes threaten state’s business growth

November 15, 2018

The difficulty of finding skilled workers is so pervasive it’s threatening business growth in Minnesota, a new survey found.

At its annual meeting Thursday, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce released its 2019 Business Benchmarks report after months of surveying business leaders.

“The mounting challenge of filling job vacancies is a common thread in our business benchmarks,” said Chamber President Doug Loon. “It also underscores the importance of strengthening Minnesota’s overall business climate, a message that resounds in our report.”

The chamber has about 2,400 members, with 60 percent of them in the Twin Cities metro area and 80 percent associated with firms with fewer than 100 employees. Yet the recent survey found common trends across the state.

Officials with the firms The Boldt Co. in Cloquet, sensor and instrument control firm 75F in Burnsville and SkyWater Technology Foundry in Bloomington told an audience of about 350 at the Radisson Blu in Bloomington about their experiences trying to find and retrain workers and how much it helped that the state is working to improve internet access in rural communities.

They also discussed how their businesses were directly impacted by Minnesota’s investments in improving local airports, highways and roads. The survey found that each of these issues was found to be a common theme from other businesses statewide.

Other findings from the report suggested that Minnesota’s economy continues to grow “but at a slower pace compared with many other states,” Loon said.

That matches results from other surveys such as the monthly Creighton University Mid-America Business Conditions Index.

For the Chamber, which lobbies on behalf of businesses among its tasks, the survey gives it fresh numbers as it deals with newly elected officials such as Gov.-elect Tim Walz.

“The new administration will lead a state that has tremendous strengths such as a talented and highly educated workforce, high innovation and a diverse economy,” Loon said. “We must protect those strengths by addressing public policies essential to growing businesses and the overall state economy.”

The Chamber report found that Minnesota’s tax rankings improved this year but that tax rates remain among the “five highest” for individuals and corporations.

On the plus side, chamber surveys found that innovation continues to drive the growth of individual companies and that the state made progress in infrastructure improvements, which helped Chamber members compete globally. Loon told attendees that Minnesota businesses continue to export products regularly, even with the recent flare of trade tariffs and trade wars.

Keynote speaker Scott Wine, CEO of outdoor vehicle maker Polaris Industries, said President Donald Trump’s policies have definite pluses and minuses. The administration’s goal to protect U.S. intellectual property and unfair trade practices are a laudable.

However, he said he does not believe trade tariffs are the best way to approach the issue. The recently implemented tariffs have cost the Medina-based manufacturer about $60 million this year. Benefits from last year’s tax cuts, he said, were only $40 million.

Wine support policies that eliminate government interference into businesses such as reduced regulations.

“For me, it’s not about being blue or red, it’s about promoting business growth,” said Wine, whose business has 11,000 employees.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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