Minnesota Chambers talks about local statewide challenges on Potlatch Deltic Tour
June 7 – BEMIDJI – As part of its statewide political tour, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce visited Potlatch Deltic on Monday, June 6 to speak with local business owners about their challenges current.
The chamber, which represents more than 2,300 businesses across Minnesota, travels the state each year to meet with business owners in different communities and talk to them about the policies that could help their businesses thrive the most.
“We do this twice a year to really stay in touch with our business communities,” said Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
This year, that tour included a stop at Potlatch Deltic in Bemidji, where Loon started by meeting with local business owners to tell them about the chamber’s recent successes and what they’re still working on.
Recent accomplishments include the state legislature’s decision to replenish the unemployment insurance fund, which was depleted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Had it not passed, the cost would have been passed on to business owners in the form of increased payroll taxes. As it stands, some companies had already paid a premium rate before the bill was passed and will now have to be reimbursed.
“It ended up being a pretty heavy lift,” Loon said. “It was a very important win for us.”
The conversation also touched on different challenges businesses are still facing, especially as they recover from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
One of them is the constant difficulty for companies to find and keep employees, which leads to staff shortages in many sectors.
The usual basic measures for economic recovery look bullish, like the unemployment rate, but according to Loon, that’s missing part of the picture.
“There’s more to the story,” Loon said. “There is still a gap between where we were and where we are today.”
Unemployment in the state currently sits at 2.2%, according to the
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
but that’s not counting the number of people who are no longer looking for a job.
According to Loon, there are still 75,000 Minnesotans who have not returned to the workforce since the pandemic began.
“For us to really tap into our true economic potential, we need to have a workforce,” Loon said. “We have the opportunity to do better in this space.”
This issue has become one of the chamber’s top priorities and is something they will continue to monitor and investigate.
Loon also explained how the chamber has worked to reduce taxes, from the corporate level to those that impact individuals.
“We don’t want to see new burdens imposed on our business community and slow down our economic growth,” Loon said.
Minnesota tends to have higher tax rates than its neighboring states, and there are a few taxes in particular that the chamber says are too burdensome for businesses.
“Most states don’t charge their businesses an additional tax that goes to the state’s general fund,” said Beth Kaldoun, vice president of tax and tax policy for the chamber.
Reducing this particular tax has been a priority for the chamber in its legislative efforts, not only to help existing businesses and those seeking to establish one, but to encourage outside businesses to locate in Minnesota.
“Besides our climate, our biggest challenge (to attracting business) is our regulatory environment,” Loon said. “They’re not even looking at Minnesota.”
Minnesota’s entrepreneurship rate and number of startups have declined, which Loon considers very concerning.
“We used to be very competitive in the country, we’re becoming less and less,” Loon said. “We need to do better in this area.”
Loon thinks that by reducing some of the regulatory hurdles to starting and maintaining a business, more people might be interested in becoming entrepreneurs.
Even though start-up rates in the state are low, businesses that start up are more likely to be successful than in other states.
“The good news is that our five-year survival rate is one of the best in the country,” Loon said. “We have to show (young people) that there is an opportunity here.”