Economic summit draws industry reps, U officials

Peter Johnson

Academics, state officials and the business community gathered in St. Paul on Wednesday for the Summit on Minnesota’s Economy.
The one-day conference at the RiverCentre drew speakers ranging from industry representatives such as 3M’s M. Kay Grenz to University President Mark Yudof.
The conference’s central topic was an examination of Minnesota’s role and position in the burgeoning global economy and identifying and analyzing factors to ensure future success.
“The new economy is footloose and highly mobile. In the new economy, there is no longer a status quo — only a status go,” said College of Agriculture Dean Charles Muscoplat, a key organizer of the event.
Speakers focused on the concept of a “new economy” — changes in telecommunication, technology and international commerce.
The conference also discussed shortcomings of the Minnesota economy, illustrating the concerns of many at the conference.
Yudof called for “a Minnesota that builds on its strength” and stressed the need “to balance the issues of Minnesota to a wider array of national and international issues.”
Speaking for “our friends in labor and certain communities of color, economic growth which leaves behind certain parts of the economy will not fly here,” Yudof said.
He also expressed support for Gov. Jesse Ventura’s long term, statewide economic proposal, dubbed the Big Plan.
“The Ventura administration has worked very hard on these economic issues,” Yudof said.
Ventura spoke of his plan, calling it a “strategic vision for healthy and vital communities.” He spoke of the importance of a highly skilled work force, the need for improved public transportation and attention to public education for ensuring further economic success.
Ventura also illustrated some of the problems facing the state work force, touching on issues of wages and housing.
“Forty percent of our work force makes less than $10 per hour,” Ventura said.
He also brought up a $140 million proposal to increase affordable housing, face challenges from rural Minnesota and reform the state tax system.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that our tax system is built around the old economy,” Ventura said.
Gerald Carlson, commissioner of the Department of Trade and Economic Development, said, “By any measure, we in Minnesota are enjoying the best of times. In spite of our success, we need to get better and better … and support a statewide economic plan.”
The administration’s optimism about the current state of the economy stems from statistics ranking the state first in percentage of adults with a high school diploma and fifth in the percentage of those with a college degree. The Twin Cities ranked the second for international business cities.
Ventura cited entrepreneurial spirit, a diverse economy and the resilience of Minnesotans as key reasons for economic success — and spoke of the state’s agribusiness, medical technology, telecommunications and tourism industries.
Ventura also spoke on the University’s importance and the role it plays in the state economy.
“The people of Minnesota expect the University and state to work together. The institutions we lead are codependent; a healthy University of Minnesota contributes to a healthy Minnesota economy,” Ventura said.
Yudof illustrated the sentiment by his prominent role in organizing the conference as well as a work group to carry out the ideas from the summit.
“To maintain the summit’s momentum, we’ve asked 21 influential Minnesotans to work over the next 60 days to develop a strategic agenda to keep Minnesota’s economy strong,” Yudof said in a statement.
The group will consist largely of corporate leaders and the heads of various business administrations.

Pete Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected]