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'Confidence in the economy': DEED business director optimistic state will see growth

BEMIDJI - Minnesota's economic future is set to make a rebound, a top official from the state's economic department said here Thursday.

Kevin McKinnon, director of business and community employment for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), addressed members of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities during their annual summer conference at the Sanford Center.

In the keynote speech, McKinnon presented a brief overview of department programs and how they have impacted the state's economic sector.

"We have a very positive economic story to tell," McKinnon said to a crowd of nearly 50 attendees.

As the state's principal development agency, the primary focus of DEED is to further develop businesses' recruitment and expansion efforts, as well as to promote and build the state's work force and community development.

According to McKinnon, many DEED programs played a role in recovering about 95 percent of jobs in the state since the economic recession of 2008. He also added that with a state unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, compared to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' June 2013 national unemployment rate estimate of 7.6 percent, there is indication the state's businesses are expecting a year of growth.

"We are seeing a lot of good projects around the state coming from these programs," McKinnon said. "We have a good start and we are happy with what we've done, but we (DEED) really hope to do more."

Among the DEED economic programs McKinnon highlighted were the Minnesota Investment Fund, which provides financing to eligible businesses financing to increasing jobs and the quality of those jobs.

With more than $30 million available, the Minnesota Investment Fund has the capability to create nearly 10,000 jobs in the state, according to McKinnon. He added about 80 percent of all the appropriated funds have gone to projects in greater Minnesota.

"This fund has created more revolving loans than anything else we have put in place," said McKinnon, adding the fund can produce $800 million in private investments.

Among the newest programs is the Minnesota Job Creation Fund, which McKinnon said will provide up to $1 million in approved grants to a businesses after certain requirements are met, including specific job creation and capital investment goals.

"There are a lot of projects going on in your communities that already make you eligible for these funds," McKinnon said. Not effective until January 1, 2014, the Minnesota Job Creation Fund would provide eligible businesses with a minimum of $37,500.

With various other DEED tax incentives and exemptions, McKinnon said there a many ways to encourage business growth, noting DEED has impacted businesses from around the state such as Baxter Healthcare, Emerson Process Management, 3M, Mall of America and Mayo Clinic.

"We have to partner with communities and work toward the common goal of growth," McKinnon said.