Pawlenty, legislative leaders “extremely concerned” about Northwest-Delta merger

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An unusually unified group of Minnesota state leaders expressed concern Monday about a proposed merger between Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines.

Speaking at a press conference in the governor’s reception room, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he was “very concerned” about the possible impact the merger could have on the state.

“I’m extremely concerned about this, I think all the legislative leaders are,” said Pawlenty. “We will need to see what kind of arrangements or what kind of offer they’re going to make for Minnesota.”

Northwest Airlines, the world’s fourth-largest airline, is headquartered in Minneapolis and has one of its hubs at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Merger talks have been under way for some time with Atlanta-based Delta Airlines, the world’s second-largest airline, and a deal is expected to be announced later this week.

The potential for a loss of Northwest’s headquarters was a key focus for the governor and legislative leaders alike.

“Northwest Airlines has been an excellent company for Minnesota, and Minnesota has been excellent for Northwest Airlines,” said Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis.

Pawlenty echoed those sentiments.

“We would hope that in light of all we’ve done for them over the years and decades, and what they’ve done for us, that this positive partnership could continue,” Pawlenty said. Noting that Northwest had previously committed to keeping its hub and headquarters in Minnesota in exchange for state aid, Pawlenty said that any decision to leave the state would require compensation to the state.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said that she knew the possible loss of jobs was of “great interest” to Minnesotans. She also cited a potential loss of rural air routes as a concern.

“We are working toward assurances about rural air service in this state,” she said.

Pawlenty expressed some optimism that the merger could benefit Minnesota.

Referencing a previous merger involving a Minnesota fixture, Pawlenty said, “When Wells Fargo purchased Northwest Bank, the headquarters moved to San Francisco, but the number of people employed in Minnesota actually increased.” He added later, “Our position about the merger will depend on how they treat Minnesota.”

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