CORRECTED 6/29/2012: A year and a half ago, Governor Mark Dayton asked Kathy Tunheim to serve as a senior adviser, working to generate a public discussion on jobs and job creation. Tunheim is the principal and CEO for Tunheim Associates, a public relations and media firm and is the president of IPREX, a worldwide network of public relations firms. Her job as senior adviser to the governor for job creation is a part-time, volunteer position.
When asked what she and the administration hoped to accomplish, Tunheim said that they want to start a discussion that asks: “What do facts and analysis say about what will drive job growth and economic vitality in Minnesota; what kinds of jobs should Minnesota focus on creating and where is our competitive advantage; and what are the specific opportunities before us and how do we seize them?”
One year later, said Tunheim, “We thought the most important thing was to listen.” Since January 2011, when Dayton took office, she and her colleagues working with the administration asked, “What are you seeing that is creating jobs? What’s working? What are the things that really get in the way?
She said different parts of the state are facing different challenges and are facing different economies. “In the metropolitan urban core, there is a misalignment between the jobs that employers are trying to fill and what the skill sets are,” Tunheim said. The challenge in northwest Minnesota is quite different. There, she said that the volume of workers is just not sufficient to meet the demand.
“What to do about these challenges is pretty different,” she said.
Creating jobs is more complicated than creating a tax break. Tax cuts have not proven to create good jobs in “higher context” industries. Higher context refers to industries that are more about technology and wealth generation and require more skill, knowledge or education on the part of employees rather than the industries that generate low-paying and low-skilled jobs and do not benefit the larger economy but just the principals of the business. On the other hand, Tunheim adds, “It is not enough to say ‘get everyone through school and hope there are enough jobs in the private sector to get job done.’”
“We are beginning a more thoughtful conversation about our competitiveness looking forward,” said Tunheim. “For whatever challenges we face,” she said, “Minnesota is blessed with incredible assets to be competitive in global marketplace. I’d rather be us than a lot of other places in the world.”
Tunheim points to three important sectors that need to be strong and in good relation to each other to make a successful economic development and job creation plan: Business/private sector; government/public sector; and the often-ignored non-profit sector.
Almost every politician’s mantra calls for making government work with businesses to achieve economic vitality. Non-profits tend to be marginalized in this discussion. Tunheim points out that vibrant non-profits in our state provide many critical services that enhance commercial and social infrastructure and are a significant portion of commerce in our economy.
Addressing business success is about creating shared aspiration. “If this is going to be a great place to live and work,” she said, “we have to work to make it a great place to live and work.”
Tunheim talked about other places with mature economies. “Central Germany,” she said, “has a lot of the same characteristics as we do. They do better than we do: they have a game plan. They say they will be competitive in clean energy technology. They invested in infrastructures and create training programs for workers to support that.”
Tunheim points out that Minnesota has several strong business sectors including food and agriculture, medical technology and health delivery, bio-sciences, and mining, as well as a lot of corporate headquarters. She also cited extraordinary banking, advertising, marketing and communications sectors, and leading academic institutions that develop technology and an exceptional workforce.
Tunheim describes these different sectors as a collection of economic “ecosystems” which have shaped our culture in ways that have made our state successful in the past. “Minnesota has competed above its weight class because of how private, public and philanthropic sectors have leveraged off each other,” she said. Now, “What do we want Minnesota to be important for?”
Tunheim’s role in all of this? In her quite involved, volunteer capacity, she says, “It’s really fun to think about Minnesota in a global context. I have the change to interact with people outside (of my small company), and people see the work we do here as highly valued. We are trying to infuse everyone with that optimism and confidence.”
Tunheim is listening to businesses, workers and communities to assess resources, opportunities and challenges. “Culture, quality of life, transportation, an increasingly diverse culture, infrastructure, the opportunity to do important work in whatever your field” are things that are important to keep jobs and businesses here, she said.
She wants to tell that story, letting workers, employers, schools and policy makers know what we have. They need to work together at “getting Minnesota back on track in creating private sector jobs.” In the past decade, Minnesota has fallen in our capacity in creating new jobs. “We need to make sure we are on the ground in enough ways to create innovation, be nimble, and give people the information to what jobs are going to be available,” said Tunheim.
“We can’t just wait for the economy to come back around,” she warned. “The economy is not coming around; it is transforming in incredible ways. We have to figure out how to be relevant to the transforming global economy.”