Chamber touts policy goals

FAIRMONT — A Minnesota Chamber of Commerce representative dropped by Fairmont on Monday as part of the Chamber’s 2018 statewide policy tour.

In attendance were local Chamber of Commerce members, government officials, business owners and members of the community.

Bentley Graves, director of health and transportation policy for the Minnesota Chamber, discussed the group’s 2018 legislative priorities. The Legislature reconvenes Feb. 20.

The Chamber’s goals fall under four categories: tax competitiveness, workplace mandates, transportation and affordability.

For tax competitiveness, the goal of the Chamber is to reduce high tax burdens through several steps, including using state revenue gains from federal tax reform to improve tax competitiveness, and reducing corporate and individual income rates in addition to the statewide property tax levy.

The next goal is to minimize workplace regulations for businesses by preserving flexibility among private-sector employers and employees, and ensuring consistent statewide laws by prohibiting local governments from enacting wage and benefit mandates.

For transportation, the goal is to provide long-term funding for roads, bridges and transit by fully dedicating sales tax on rental cars and auto parts for transportation, resolving long-term funding challenges facing the Twin Cities bus transit system and establishing permanent, long-term efficiency expectations at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

According to Graves, affordable childcare and housing are ongoing issues in outstate Minnesota, something that contributes to the workforce problem.

“This is a huge, huge issue that’s really making it difficult in Greater Minnesota for employers to find the workforce they need,” he said.

To change this, Graves said one of the Chamber’s legislative priorities is to provide more resources for early childhood care with a quality rating system, as well as provide scholarships for families in need.

Another focus of the Minnesota Chamber is education. Graves said that because high schools generally encourage students to pursue four-year degrees, students do not have the particular skills to enter the workforce and fill the needs of the community.

“We’ve heard a lot from employers that they’ve had to kind of lower their standards,” he said. “A lot of them are having to do more and more training to get employees up to speed.”

Graves said that while there are plans to work for change in the Legislature, steps have been made in the private sector to fix the workforce problem. The Chamber has pursued grant funding to set up Business Education Networks, which connect local Chamber members, employers and educators to help students understand what their options are, as well as the workforce needs of the community. The program is currently in partnership with the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce, Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce and the Waconia Chamber of Commerce.

“Not surprisingly, it’s really helped move the conversation along in those communities,” Graves said.

The Chamber also has started MN Job Match, a program that uses a series of questions to match workers with employment opportunities. MN Job Match is in partnership with RealTime Talent, a database that helps tackle workforce needs in Minnesota geographically or by industry.

“What we’re trying to do is not just build up Minnesota’s workforce, but think about workforce in a different way and think about workers in a different way,” Graves said.

Linsey Preuss, economic development coordinator for the city of Fairmont, said the issues discussed at the meeting, particularly involving workforce and childcare, echo the economic needs of the area.

“Exactly what he said is what’s happening here,” she said.

Fairmont was the first stop on the tour, with 12 other presentations scheduled around the state from Jan. 8-22.