Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - February 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
An Interview with Governor Mark Dayton
Governor Mark Dayton shares his thoughts on addressing Minnesota’s qualified worker shortage, encouraging exporting and green business practices, and spurring job creation around the state.
Governor Mark Dayton
You’ve been quoted as saying that Minnesota needs to operate at the speed of commerce. Can you expand upon that statement?
Dayton: Well, you can credit that to my Commissioner of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Paul Aasen. He used that phrase in our first interview, and it convinced me he was the right person for the job because speeding up the permitting process is an absolute priority, and something for which we have bipartisan support.
As you traveled around Minnesota on your jobs tour and jobs summit, was there a consistent theme, either in the points that business executives around the state were making, or in the topics they addressed?
Dayton: I would say that education of the workforce and realignment of the higher education programs, especially at the technical colleges, is really crucial for a number of reasons. I hear from employers across the state that they can’t find people with the skills that they are looking to hire. It’s as specific as someone saying, ‘We are looking for mechanical drafters,’ and the community and technical colleges nearby are teaching architectural drafting. It’s a disservice, all the way around; the employers can’t find the people they need, and these young people aren’t being trained for jobs that are in demand.
I’ve talked with the new Chancellor of MnSCU and former State Senator Larry Pogemiller, who is really knowledgeable about education, and MnSCU will be a key player in this. I really want to stress that education will be the funding priority. We have a bonding bill proposal for the legislature next year. I’ve already told the Chancellor that my priority will be investments in new technology, machinery and capital improvements so that these courses become realigned with what the business community needs.
How can the public and private sectors collaborate to make the needs of private enterprises known and to start creating a better matchup of skills and jobs?
Dayton: I think you have to go out and ask the people who are busy running the companies and meeting payrolls. That’s one of the benefits of my going out and holding these forums, and I will continue to do so to get that advice and input.
I also want to make it clear that my administration and I care very much about what their needs are and what we can do to improve our performance, so that they can ultimately improve their performance. There’s a feeling out there that the government doesn’t care, and that there’s no use in offering an opinion because it’s not going to change anything. I really want to emphasize that we won’t be perfect, but we’re going to get better. We want to get better in ways that are helpful to manufacturing companies that are expanding Minnesota’s workforce.
With infrastructure, you talk about a public-private partnership. I’m really glad to hear that, because there are some ideologies that believe that the public sector should just disappear and then everybody will live happily ever after. When I go into the real world and meet with business executives, they recognize the need for the public sector and this collaboration. Infrastructure improvements are important not only for manufacturing and expansions, but also for other commercial needs.
As you spoke with business executives of small and medium-sized companies around the state, what is your sense of their level of interest in exporting, and ways in which the State might help them to become more effective exporters?
Dayton: There’s a great deal of interest when someone sees the possibilities, but some had no interest at all because that’s not what they’re focused on. We have a small Trade Office, at least a dozen people, and the question is, What role can we play that really adds value for companies that they can’t do on their own?’
My experience is that a governor who is directly involved in leading the trade mission can help open doors that would otherwise remain closed. For example, some business executives in the biotechnology industry were trying to meet with the Trade Minster of the Republic of Korea to address some concerns about some changes they had made in their government policy. They weren’t able to get a meeting, but I was, so they were able to come with me and present some of their concerns directly to the Minister. They felt that was a really significant breakthrough for them. I want to find out how we can maximize the limited time that I have to spend outside of this state in ways that are most beneficial to our businesses. I also want to find out what expertise the small to mid-sized businesses, especially, need from the Trade Office, because we want to make sure we can provide the right people to help.
Many manufacturers throughout Minnesota have embraced green technology. How can our state regain its position of leadership not only in green products, but also in setting green agendas so that we can reduce our energy consumption and be better stewards of the environment?
Dayton: As a cold weather state and with the extreme temperature fluctuations from the summer to the winter, we have special needs to save energy. Conservation is the best and most available alternative, and obviously, it reduces costs for companies. I think people are aware of the potential savings, but they’re not always aware of the newest technologies. That’s something that I think our Energy Division, which is in the Department of Commerce, needs to do a better job of communicating; what they know, and what expertise they can share with businesses.
You’re very passionate about a new Vikings stadium. How do you see a new stadium affecting the lifestyle of Minnesotans?
Dayton: To me, it’s about jobs, first and foremost. There is opportunity with both sites. In Arden Hills, there is environmental contamination from the U.S. Army using it as a waste dump years ago, and more than 30 acres of it is empty and surrounded by commercial and residential developments. The chance to clean up that site and build a stadium that would put several thousands of people to work for three years, and then operate it, is huge. The additional projected commercial development that would occur in the adjacent area, would provide even more employment.
Conversely, in Minneapolis, there’s basically an unused section of the city between Target Field and Highway 394 where very little, if anything, is happening. Again, cleaning that area up and renovating that site will create several thousand jobs during the time of the construction.
I wish we had the means to do both projects because they’d put thousands of people to work at a time when we have unemployment levels in the building trades that exceed 20 percent. It would spur greater economic growth around both sites. That’s the role of government, to collaborate with partners, who in this case are willing to invest almost half a billion dollars.
What should different sectors, including private employers, the University of Minnesota, MnSCU and government agencies, do to encourage and spark job creation around the state?
Dayton: I hope everyone feels a sense of responsibility and opportunity in their commitment to Minnesota. Criticize what’s wrong, but recognize what is right, and help us to improve it. Employ people in Minnesota who will then pay taxes and help us deal with the chronic budget deficits.
When Dayton’s was my family’s business, my father said that family members would get along much better if the business were successful than if it weren’t. I think you can apply that to the state of Minnesota; we’ll get along much better if we’re a more successful state. Some people say, ‘Well, this doesn’t affect me, why should I care about educating other people’s kids?’ Well, it does affect you, and it affects your children and your grandchildren even more, because if 96-98 percent of the population is employed, we’ll be a successful society. When 85 percent are employed, 10 percent are unemployed and five percent are in prison, the social friction will be far greater than what we experience today. So for our sake and for the sake of future generations, there’s just so much at stake with these decisions, and we each have a responsibility in that.
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