Jobs task force hears Greater Minnesota concerns

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Members of the House Jobs Task Force took a field trip to gather input from Greater Minnesota businesses on how the state can help them expand and hire more workers.

At a meeting held in the central Minnesota city of Milaca, task force members asked participants their opinions on subjects ranging from government stimulus programs to workforce issues to potential tax incentives – anything that might help them grow new jobs.

“How can the state help you grow, or can we at all?” asked task force co-chairman Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia).

In response, several testifiers said their businesses had benefited from government grants and stimulus programs. Christopher Kotsmith, owner of the Milaca Building Center, said a stimulus program called Project ReEnergize that offered rebates on purchases of new windows had been effective in temporarily shoring up business, but was underfunded. Similarly, Jeff Brown, owner of Granite Ledge Electrical Contractors, said his company had received stimulus money in the form of contracts for local government projects – contracts that helped the company get through otherwise hard times.

Bill Batchelder, owner of Bemidji Woolen Mills, suggested lawmakers consider a grant program that would help small businesses invest in technology. He said a particular $120,000 piece of equipment would allow him hire six new employees, but he has been unsuccessful in getting a loan from either the U.S. Small Business Administration or local banks. Batchelder also warned against a proposal to expand the sales tax to clothing, saying it would be “devastating” to the state’s clothing manufacturers.

Harry Melander, president of the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council, said the state’s economic situation called for legislators to step “out of their comfort zone” to pass legislation that would put Minnesotans back to work.

“People have different philosophies about the economic role of government … but these are unusual times,” Melander said, adding that a large bonding bill would benefit the construction industry, which has been in a slump.

The task force is scheduled to meet again Nov. 30 to discuss problems in the credit market for small businesses.