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Businesses need state cooperation

FAIRMONT — Businesses across Minnesota are the lifeblood of the state, offering products and services, employing millions and serving as the points of origin for billions of dollars in state tax revenue.

Those businesses say they could use some cooperation from state lawmakers, whether in the form of fewer mandates, tax relief or making sure the state’s students are adequately prepared for the workforce.

With the Minnesota Legislature in session now through May, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is busy lobbying for a five-point agenda that has implications across the state, including the Fairmont area.

“Just face value, it all applies to local businesses, I think,” says Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce president Ned Koppen.

Koppen speaks regularly to local businesses about their operations and obstacles. He also confers with leaders of other chambers of commerce, as well as with leadership at the state Chamber of Commerce.

“When you’re a member of your local chamber, one of the benefits that you maybe don’t consider all the time is the work that the Minnesota Chamber does for all chambers, all businesses,” he said. “The Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce is a member of the Minnesota Chamber, and we actively participate in their Grow Minnesota program, which [includes] visits with employers and gathering information and feeding that to the Minnesota Chamber, which helps with what some of these [legislative] initiatives should be.”

This year, the state Chamber is focused on: workplace management; tax competitiveness; environmental sustainability; health care; and education and workforce development.

Workplace management

The state Chamber says businesses adhere to strict labor laws and workplace standards, but need flexibility to make staffing decisions, and to provide appropriate wages, benefits and schedules to meet the needs of their workplace and industry.

“I think what businesses fear is that either from a local or a state level they’re going to try and come with a one-size-fits-all policy for what your benefits are, how you handle leave issues and those kinds of things,” Koppen said. “From a business standpoint, I think it’s important for our employers that they’re allowed to come up with what’s best for their business. What can we provide for our employees, what’s in the best interest of our business and employees, and what makes us most attractive to potential employees?”

Some political ideas, for examples, that have popped up in recent years include a $15 minimum wage and mandatory paid leave. Employers worry about individual cities or counties passing such measures or, of course, a broader mandate from the Legislature.

“The bigger blanket you try and throw over everybody, that’s that one size fits all, the more employers that’s going to be difficult for,” Koppen said.

While some may believe businesses can simply pay the costs of new mandates, that is not necessarily true. They may choose to cut staff, pull back on plans for hiring or investment, or may even face the prospect of going out of business.

Tax conformity

The state Chamber says Minnesota’s high taxes remain a key barrier to economic growth, according to its members. It says state business taxes are among the highest in the nation. The Chamber would like to see broad tax reform, including business property tax relief, personal and corporate tax reductions, estate tax federal conformity and federal conformity with Section 179 business expensing rules, among others. Koppen said the business expensing rules change would definitely benefit area farmers and small businesses.

Environmental sustainability

The Chamber says it recognizes scientific consensus that the climate is changing because of human activity. But it also says that environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness are not mutually exclusive.

Health care

“They’re all concerned about it,” Koppen says of local employers’ view of the issue.

He says every business wants to offer as many benefits as possible to take care of current employees and attract new workers. But, he noted, businesses have to make difficult decisions about what they can afford.

The state Chamber notes that Minnesota requires health insurance policies to cover more than 60 benefits, one of the longest lists in the country. The mandates are particularly tough on small employers, the Chamber says, with each mandate increasing premium costs by 0.44% to 1.11% annually.

The Chamber says it supports a cost-benefit analysis of any proposal to add insurance mandates to state law.

Education and workforce development

Koppen points out some good things happening locally, such as Fairmont Area Schools’ academies that provide vocational training. He notes too the broader educational opportunties happening at all schools in the county.

He said the local Chamber has a Fairmont Area Life program that works to introduce young people to the career opportunities available here.

The state Chamber supports exactly these kinds of programs. It also supports utilizing data to better help students make informed decisions on the institutions or programs that may best fit their needs.

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