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Positive economic indicators for the Upper Midwest

AFTERNOON EDITION ALSO: Encouraging signs for beef prices and taconite, too. And crime watch. Plus a new guv and a former guv, Michele Bachmann and a massive slot jackpot.
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Positive economic indicators for the Upper Midwest

The AP has a story built around a survey of supply managers in the Upper Midwest suggesting that good growth is likely for 2011: “The Business Conditions Index for the Mid-America region rose to 57.5 in December from 55.9 in November and 52.3 in October. December was the 13th consecutive month that the index came in above growth neutral. ‘The regional economy ended the year on a high note as the weaker U.S. dollar and an expanding global economy stimulated business activity for firms with close ties to agriculture and energy commodities,’ said Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey. The survey and report use a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Organizers said any score above 50 suggests economic growth in the next three to six months, while a score below 50 suggests a contracting economy. States in the survey are Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.”

And because I know you’re keeping an eye on porterhouse futures, here’s a story from the Grand Forks Herald saying that cattle ranchers up there and in Minnesota are feeling pretty good about their situation with the (miserable) winter so far. “Parts of South Dakota have been hit with winter storms, but much of the state has enjoyed excellent weather, said Bill Slovek, a Philip, S.D., cow-calf operator. ‘We’ve just had a wonderful fall,’ said Slovek, first vice president of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association. As of mid-December, his cattle still were grazing in fall pastures, with favorable weather forecast for the rest of the month, he said. He has plenty of hay for his cattle. ‘I never put up so much hay as I did this year,’ he said. Prices are good, too. He sold some calves this fall for $20 per hundredweight more than a year earlier, and prices have risen higher since then. Ranchers in his area struggled with low prices in 2008 and 2009 and with drought for five years before that, Slovek said. Now, ‘all the conditions (for success) have really come together,’ he said.”

2010 was also a good year for taconite up on Da Range. The PlainsDaily website reports: “Production levels in 2010 were just below those during the peak year of 2008 and more than double those recorded in the recession year of 2009, the Mesabi Daily News reported. The newspaper also said a new era in iron mining is becoming more established on the Range, with new plants such as Magnetation and Mesabi Nugget using new technologies to produce iron for steel, and construction well under way at the new Essar Steel Minnesota operation.”

And: “Tax revenues from the new-era iron producers will begin accruing in the near future, Wagstrom said. They include Mesabi Nugget, which uses a unique process to produce 95-percent-iron nuggets, and Magnetation, which reclaims iron ore from older-era iron tailings stockpiles. At one point in spring and summer 2009, none of the six taconite plants on the Range was in production. ‘2010 was much improved,’ said Craig Pagel, president of the Iron Mining Association of America of Minnesota. “As the recession ended, and steel demand increased, it was good to see all the taconite mines up and running.” Next thing you know, we’ll start actually making stuff in this country again.

The kid accused in that notorious Powderhorn Park sexual assault — who cut off his ankle monitor — turned himself in last night. Paul Walsh of the Strib reports: “The boy, whose age is in dispute as being either 15 or 16, surrendered about 10:45 p.m. Sunday at the Hennepin County juvenile jail in downtown Minneapolis, said county spokeswoman Carolyn Marinan.”

Walsh has another good onethe Forest Lake mail carrier who allegedly stole a few hundred bucks worth of gift cards: “U.S. Postal Service employee Christina M. Steiner, of Forest Lake, is accused of stealing $600 to $800 in cash and gift cards from the mail, the U.S. attorney’s office said last week. The thefts occurred from December 2009 until mid-September, according to the indictment. If convicted of mail theft by a postal employee, Steiner faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Her trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 28 in federal court in St. Paul.” $800? She doesn’t even register on the Petters-Hecker meter.

You may have heard that Denny Hecker wants out of jail until his sentencing. Now he has a Tuesday court appearance. MaryJo Webster writes in the PiPress: “Hecker has been in the Sherburne County Jail since Oct. 18, when [U.S. District Court Chief Judge Michael] Davis was not satisfied with answers Hecker provided regarding his spending of money that he liquidated from insurance policies during the summer. His spending came into question because, at the time, Hecker had been represented by taxpayer-funded attorneys.”

With Mark Dayton now officially in charge, MPR’s Mark Zedechlik files on the next course of action for Tim Pawlenty. His “book tour” gets serious real soon. “Pawlenty acknowledges he’s considering a presidential campaign, but dismisses talk that his book tour is part an effort to get to the White House. ‘I know everybody’s trying to say that the book tour is about politics, but I think of the 30 or more days that I will be promoting the book across the country, I think only two days are in New Hampshire or Iowa,’ he said. Actually, the schedule has Pawlenty in Iowa and New Hampshire for four days and six engagements. ‘There may be political stops that we do, but the primary purpose of the tour is to promote the book and to try to generate interest in the book,’ Pawlenty said. But Washington University political scientist Steven Smith said Pawlenty’s book tour has little to do with selling books. ‘You know the book isn’t really the focus. The book is an excuse for being somewhere,’ he said. It’s also about getting on the radio, on television and in the newspaper.” Now, if only he had a kid he could get on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Meanwhile, with every pro journalist in town holding his or her tongue and dutifully recording the Dayton inauguration, the boys over at the conservative True North blog are having none of the warm glow. Writes Gary Gross: “[T]he truth is Mark Dayton isn’t a ‘jobs governor,’ whatever that is. He’s someone who’s delivered that line well enough to fool enough voters. One of the things that tells us everything we need to know about him is that Dayton thinks Minnesota’s stringent environmental regulations aren’t stringent enough. Another thing that tells us a lot about him is that he’s picked an extremist whose organization has fought every major employment opportunity in the state with litigation that approaches attrition. Why should we think Paul Aasen will suddenly stop being the environmental extremist he’s been for so long now that he’s heading a state agency that deals with environmental issues?” What this state needs is an “environmental extremist” who owns an asphalt company.

After  beaming in to “Face the Nation” Sunday, Michele Bachmann hung around to chat with WCCO’s Esme Murphy, who  pressed her on what exactly she plans to cut to bring into line those scary-terrifying deficits she’s been so concerned with … since Jan. 20, 2009. Andy Birkey at the Minnesota Independent provides a link to ‘CCO and writes: “Murphy asked, ‘Where would you slash? I mean if you could just go one two three what would be your top priorities?’ ‘I think mistakes were made in passing the stimulus in the first place and also in the TARP bailout’ — which was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2008 — ‘so we do have quite a bit of money still left unspent stimulus funds. We shouldn’t spend that,’ Bachmann said. ‘We have other accounts that have $20 billion in them that we haven’t spent we shouldn’t spend that. We need to take the federal employees that were added, an additional 10 percent, and we need to cut back on there as well.’ ” Upon follow-up, we’ll be fascinated to hear about those other “accounts” with $20 billion floating, unspent.

And I thought Potawatomi was from “Rocky & Bullwinkle.” The AP reports a Milwaukee man scored the biggest slot machine take in 20 years. “[H]e won a $2.7 million [jackpot] … on a $5 slot machine Thursday at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee. WITI-TV says the man wishes to remain anonymous. The jackpot is the largest that the casino has awarded in its 20-year history. Last year a Milwaukee resident won more than $2.1 million on a Potawatomi slot machine.” $4.8 MILLION out of a BINGO casino?