Business owners and managers could cast deciding votes and determine whether Republicans retain control of the Minnesota Legislature and whether a businessman is elected from the 6th Congressional District.
A new survey of business owners and managers reveals growing optimism about Minnesota’s economy, but substantial frustration over tax and regulatory policies.
In the Business Barometer survey, co-sponsored by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, 31 percent of companies indicated they believe the economy is improving. That was a big jump from the 13 percent who saw an improvement in 2011, yet 49 percent of those surveyed this year believe the economy is about the same.
Business people don’t like treading water, so they’ll be looking for candidates they think will reduce government impediments to their companies’ growth.
The Business Barometer, also sponsored by the Himle Rapp and Co. public affairs firm, reported that 55 percent of survey respondents said Minnesota has a “good business climate.” But seven out of 10 businesses said that taxes are a key obstacle to job creation.
The timing of the survey release, just weeks before the November election, is by design.
“Because government can both positively and negatively impact the state’s business climate, employers are playing a major role in political discussions,” Joe Maher of UPM Blandin Paper, said in a prepared statement. Maher, the chair of the Minnesota Chamber board, said, “Our immediate focus is on the November elections as we seek to elect legislators who understand what it will take to create a pro-jobs environment in Minnesota.”
The opportunities for business voters to make their biggest impact are likely to be found in swing districts in rural, suburban and exurban areas. Republican and Democratic candidates are being sized up on what policies they would support to make the state more hospitable to the private sector.
While Minnesota Republicans won both houses of the Legislature in 2010 on a limited-government and pro-business agenda, the 2012 election introduces many new variables. All 201 legislative seats will be on the ballot with newly redrawn districts for the Senate and House candidates, so it’s much tougher to predict the outcome of individual races.
There will be a higher turnout of Minnesota voters in a presidential election year, so the 2012 electorate will be quite different from the one that elected Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and a GOP-controlled Legislature two years ago. Finally, the same-sex marriage amendment is likely to draw more people to the polls than the lopsided U.S. Senate contest, where taxes and government spending are major issues.
Pivotal 6th District voters
From a business standpoint, the most intriguing race is in the 6th Congressional District, which encompasses a large swath of central Minnesota. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann championed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which she calls Obamacare, during the GOP presidential debates.
The Business Barometer showed that 47 percent of those surveyed believe insurance costs will rise as the result of federal health care reform.
However, among the 350 Minnesota businesses polled, a huge majority — 85 percent — said “the stability and predictability of government regulations are important factors” in determining whether to make a larger business investment in Minnesota.
Democrat Jim Graves, a St. Cloud native who founded the AmericInn hotel chain in 1979, is running against Bachmann by emphasizing his business experience. In his campaign biography, he states he “has built more than a hundred businesses, creating thousands of private sector jobs in small towns and cities throughout the Sixth District and across the state.”
In a congressional district with many small business owners and farmers, Bachmann and Graves likely will divide up the business vote.
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
Polaris, 3M expansions
One clear way to measure the health of the state’s business climate is to look at whether major firms are continuing to expand in Minnesota.
In the days after the Chamber of Commerce survey was released, news broke that Polaris Industries Inc. and 3M Co. would make huge investments in research and development facilities in Minnesota.
Polaris, a manufacturer of all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles, plans to add 144,000 square feet of space to its Wyoming, Minn., facility, where engineers will work on developing the next models of off-road vehicles.
Meanwhile, the city of Maplewood disclosed that 3M Co. has informed its employees of plans to construct a large and modern research facility on the 3M campus.
Both 3M and Polaris will use the facilities for developing products that will sell in a global economy, and they will pay Minnesota-based workers high wages for the research and development work done in the Twin Cities. These are the kinds of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs that every governor wants more of in his or her state.
In the past several years, 3M Co. has built research facilities around the globe and, more recently, Polaris shifted some production jobs from Wisconsin to Mexico. The competition to secure major corporate facilities crosses state and national borders.
While some liberal lawmakers dislike using tax money for business subsidies and some conservative legislators oppose government picking winners and losers, Polaris got incentives to build in Minnesota.
“Greater MSP, the region’s economic development partnership, coordinated the involvement of Polaris, Chisago County, the City of Wyoming, and Department of Employment and Economic Development [DEED], to compile a package of financial incentives to help Polaris expand,” the company announced Friday. Polaris stated that it will receive job training support, infrastructure improvements, research and development credits, JOBZ financing and other incentives.
Minnesota DEED is providing a $400,000 forgivable loan, which is tied to the creation of 150 permanent jobs within two years.
Two politicians who’ll be on the November ballot were happy to be associated with the expansion of Polaris. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and 8th District Congressman Chip Cravaack, a Republican, don’t agree on many federal budget issues, but they wore yellow hard hats and stood alongside Polaris executives on Friday at a groundbreaking event.
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