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Taxes at top of Minnesota Chamber of Commerce agenda

WORTHINGTON -- Trying to lure new businesses and employees to southwest Minnesota is becoming an increasing challenge as tax laws in other states make it more appealing for jobs to move across the state line to South Dakota and Iowa.

Now, with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's talk of establishing another income tax tier in the state during the 2013 legislative session, businesses are concerned about losing their competitive edge.

Jim Pumarlo, director of communications for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, was in Worthington Thursday to meet with local chamber officials and discuss the platform it would like to see carried through this session.

With jobs and the economy taking center stage during last fall's election, Pumarlo said the state's Chamber of Commerce is "excited to work with the legislature" on advancing a jobs agenda, although it wants to see the state be competitive not just with its neighbors, but globally.

The economy is still "pretty fragile" in Minnesota, Pumarlo said, adding that he'd like to see a tax structure that's revenue-neutral.

The Chamber's top concern is the governor's proposal to create a fourth tier income tax rate, which would put Minnesota at one of the highest tax rates in the country.

"If you create that higher bracket, you're taking that money right out of (Minnesota) companies," Pumarlo said. "It also impacts hiring talent. The higher tax bracket can be a deterrent.

Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Director Darlene Macklin said the income tax change would have a direct impact locally because of businesses that attract employees from both Iowa and South Dakota. There is no income tax in South Dakota, which may cause employees to look for work in their home state.

Jim Nickel, chair of the Worthington Chamber's governmental affairs committee, said South Dakota's business incentives and lower taxes seem to be a driving force in job growth.

Environmental regulation is another factor.

Jenny Andersen-Martinez, a member of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce board of directors and the human resources director for JBS in Worthington, said Minnesota needs to act quicker on permitting and have fewer environmental regulations to foster business development and expansion.

Pumarlo said one of the areas to be addressed this legislative session is the permitting process, and reducing it from the current 150 days to 90 days.

"We're all for that," he said. "In no way do we want to do anything to shortchange the environment. We just want to bring more certainty and more timeliness to the process. What takes weeks in other jurisdictions can take months or even years here."

While changes to the environmental rules and tax structure would have an immediate impact on Minnesota's economy, the Chamber also must consider the impact on future generations.

Another agenda item the state's Chamber organization will push this year is development of a qualified work force.

"We've got one of the largest achievement gaps in the country," Andersen-Martinez said. "That's something not only JBS, but everyone in the country, should be concerned about."

"We hear from employers that they're having trouble getting qualified applicants for jobs," Pumarlo added. "Forty percent of the people entering the MnSCU (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System) need remediation in either reading or math.

"The Chamber's goal is to reduce that gap," he said. "We're strong supporters of early childhood (education), we've worked hard on K-12 to have effective teachers in every classroom, we've been pushing initiatives like that."

Locally, Macklin spoke of the careers expo sponsored by the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce in each of the past three years at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

"People are not taking up trades the way they used to," said Andersen-Martinez. "(JBS) is working with MnSCU on developing an industrial maintenance program."

The pork processing facility is in such need of trained employees who can work on automated machines that Andersen-Martinez said the company is looking to fund the education for the program's first 15 students.

Pumarlo said the initiative taken by JBS is not uncommon. Other businesses across the state realize they need to take action to get results.

"It's the grow-our-own approach," Andersen-Martinez said.

Other initiatives supported by the Minnesota Chamber this session are a healthcare exchange program, competitive energy rates for business and commercial industries and election reform.

Pumarlo said there is bipartisan support among legislators to move Minnesota's primary from August to June. The move would bring greater awareness and more attention to the election, but also give politicians more time to meet with constituents before the general election.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has a lobbying group, but chamber members and businesses are encouraged to contact their local legislators about issues important to them.

Worthington's Chamber participates in legislative conference calls throughout the session, and Macklin said those calls give chamber members an opportunity to learn about what's taking place in St. Paul, as well as ask questions.

"If people in local businesses want to get involved in these or other priorities, I encourage them to become a member of the chamber," added Andersen-Martinez. "Seventy percent of the members of the Chamber are small businesses."

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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