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Minnesota Chamber talks taxes, workforce at JBS

WORTHINGTON — On the final stop of their statewide tour, representatives of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce visited JBS on Monday to show local Chamber members their wishlist for the upcoming legislative session and talk about the challenges facing Minnesota businesses.

Lowering taxes, both on businesses and individuals, is the top priority for the state Chamber this year to make Minnesota a more “welcoming” state for businesses. According to the Chamber’s polling, 42.1 percent of businesses said taxes were the biggest area of concern, by far the most popular choice.

Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said the state’s annual job growth of 1.7 percent ranks 20th in the nation, while the state has the third-highest individual and pass-through business tax rate at 9.8 percent.

Although Loon called 2017 a “great year” for businesses, as the legislature passed property tax relief and transportation funding, he said the state needs more tax cuts in light of additional state tax revenue under the new federal tax bill.

Loon also acknowledged that attracting and retaining workers is still a major issue for business owners in Worthington and Greater Minnesota. A poll from the Chamber found that 73 percent of Greater Minnesota businesses have trouble finding workers.

That problem will only get worse as time goes on and Baby Boomers retire, Loon said.

“What does that mean to the workforce? We’re going to run out of workers,” Loon said. “If we don’t have a resupply of workers, we have a problem.”

A study from the Mankato-based Center for Rural Policy and Development predicts the senior population in southwest Minnesota will grow by 51 percent through 2035, while the workforce-age population will decline by 5 percent.

The solution for employers, according to Loon, lies in attracting workers from out-of-state and foreign countries.

“International migration to Minnesota has been the driver that has allowed our economy to continue to remain positive because we’re able to find that infusion of workers from around the globe,” Loon said. “We’ve got to continue to attract talent from other states and continue to be open to international migration.”

That phenomenon has manifested itself in the Worthington area, which has maintained population growth despite a shrinking native population, thanks to international migration.

On another point of discussion, Cam Winton, director of energy and labor policy at the Chamber, warned of workplace mandates creeping into Worthington — similar to mandatory benefits passed by city councils in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Chamber also reiterated its support for more and better workforce housing, child care, early childhood education and broadband.

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