Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Minnesota saw slower economic growth in 2014

Plus: Minnesota National Guard members indicted for kickback scheme; Winona company sues over under-filled pepper tins; southern Minnesota prepares for heavy rain; and more.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

Too late for the last election season. Too early for the next. Adam Belz of the Strib reports, “Minnesota’s economy grew at a slower pace in 2014, along with much of the Upper Midwest, thanks to declines in agriculture, financial services and mining. The state’s gross domestic product grew 1.4 percent in 2014 to $288 billion, according to preliminary figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Commerce. ‘The Upper Midwest is close to full-employment status and also has very slow population and labor force growth’, said Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo & Co. economist who tracks the regional economy. ‘This makes it harder to grow all that rapidly.’”

Related … from Kim Hyatt at the Owatonna People’s Press. “Minnesota’s manufacturers are confident, but ‘there’s no doubt the workforce shortage will continue to run high,’ said Bob Kill, president and CEO of Enterprise Minnesota. On Tuesday, Kill presented findings from the 2015 State of Manufacturing survey — a survey to which 400 Minnesota manufacturing executives responded this February and March … Confidence in the future of companies is now is at an all-time high in the state at 89 percent, but even back in 2008, it was still at 79 percent. ‘Even when they saw a deep recession, they were pretty confident,’ Kill said.”

Also kinda related. The AP says, “May was a strong money month for Minnesota’s tax collectors. The Department of Minnesota Management and Budget said Wednesday that the state took in $53 million more than anticipated in tax collections last month. That’s about 3.7 percent ahead of expectations. All told, almost $1.5 billion was generated. The overage puts Minnesota $413 million in front of projections for the fiscal year that ends June 30.”

So what are the chances the Governor or someone will take a cue from Sally Jo Sorensen at Bluestem Prairie? “Unfortunately, rational people assume that Republicans running in rural districts promised to increase funding for high-speed broadband. As Bluestem pointed out in a mid-April post, ‘Follow through on broadband pledge to MN?’ In campaign, Miller made no-broadband pledge, such was not the case. This special session will leave Minnesota without a Citizens’ Board at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the theft of over $8 million from the Metropolitan Landfill Contingency Action Fund (MLCAT) and no tax bill or genuine transportation fix. … If high-speed rural broadband is on Governor Dayton’s do-to list, after watching Daudt and Bakk retreat to secret negotiations and emerge with one heckova deal, Bluestem can only ask one question of our neighbors here in sunny Chippewa County. Greater Minnesota, are you ready for dial-up again?”

Article continues after advertisement

As she says, it won’t be just the auditor taking a hit this year. Josephine Marcotty and Tony Kennedy of the Strib say, “The Legislature’s upcoming special session will likely see the end of an era in Minnesota, with lawmakers poised to abolish a citizens’ board that for decades has wielded broad power over some of the state’s most important environmental decisions. An unusual fixture in state governance, the board of eight unpaid citizens appointed by the governor has presided over the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency since its creation in the 1960s. The structure was designed to protect the public against the power of special interests in setting environmental agendas.”

A nearly 1/3rd drop in seat belt violations. Nick Woltman’s PiPress story says, “Minnesota law enforcement officials handed out 7,393 tickets for seatbelt violations during the Department of Public Safety’s 2015 Click It or Ticket campaign — a 32 percent decrease over the previous year. More than 300 agencies participated in the two-week increased enforcement program. Law enforcement officials also issued 175 child safety seat citations.”

Marino Eccher of the PiPress reports, “One former and two current members of the Minnesota National Guard were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury as part of what prosecutors say was a widespread recruiting kickback scheme that netted tens of millions of dollars in ill-gotten bonuses. … The bonuses — designed to counter sagging enlistment numbers as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on — were worth $2,000 to $7,500 per recruit.”

Doesn’t everybody do this? In the Baltimore Business Journal, Rick Seltzer writes, “A federal lawsuit from a McCormick & Co. Inc. competitor accuses the Sparks spice maker of quietly cutting the amount of black pepper it puts into metal tins, deceiving consumers and confusing retailers. Winona, Minn.-based spice, body and home-care product company Watkins Inc. filed the suit in federal court in Minneapolis on Tuesday. The company, which owns a far smaller share of the spice market than McCormick, alleged McCormick started ‘slack-filling,’ or under-filling several sizes of pepper tins at the beginning of the year. McCormick reduced the amount of pepper in the tins by 25 percent but did not drop the prices or reduce the sizes of the opaque containers.”

Finally, strawberries from some place other than the Salinas Valley. The Minnesota Farm Guide says, “Minnesota strawberry farmers are looking forward to another great strawberry season, thanks to good growing conditions this year and diligent overwintering efforts by local farmers. Strawberry fields across the state are on par for normal opening dates and promising harvests. ‘The berries look phenomenal. This is probably as good as we’ve ever seen them look,’ said David Lorence, from Lorence Berry Farm in Northfield, Minnesota. ‘They look marvelous.’”

Well, this is what you call “ringing the alarm bell.” Says Barry Amundson of the Forum News Service, “Heavy rains could cause major flooding and dangerous driving conditions across a wide area of eastern South Dakota and southern Minnesota on Thursday and continuing into Friday. National Weather Service hydrologist Mike Gillispie of Sioux Falls said from 2 to 4 inches of rain is expected during the daylight hours Thursday in southeast South Dakota and southwest Minnesota.”

Paul Huttner at MPR says, “Thursday has all the earmarks of a potentially damaging and life-threatening flash flood event for parts of southern Minnesota. After a beautiful day today, the remnants of Hurricane Blanca are streaming northeast through the Rockies toward Minnesota. All indications support a potential flash flood event across southern Minnesota on Thursday. The only question seems to be precisely where the heaviest rainfall bands will set up. Not going for the dramatic here, but multiple model runs have cranked out anywhere from 3- to 6-inch rainfall totals for southern Minnesota.” And diddly for California.

What? Also from the Forum News Service: “A Zimmerman man who generated so much heat from the use of his computers that his parents used it to heat their Sherburne County home has been found guilty of distributing child pornography. … [40 year-old Levi Wayne] Burns stored and shared child pornography and had a large number of computers, including a specially built one, and that the heat given off was enough to warm the home that winter, one of the coldest in recent Minnesota history.”