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Cost of business critical for green jobs

Ask a politician about economic recovery, and "green jobs" are likely to surface. After all, who doesn't advocate jobs that promote environmen-tal sustaina-bility. Everyone does, and that's part of the challenge. Competition is intense.

Witness the recent study recommending that the Ford plant in St. Paul reposition itself as a green manufacturing site. The report identified 180 highly visible industries parks being marketed as green sites in the Upper Midwest alone. Nationwide, the number soars to 3,600.

The underlying point should not be lost on policy-makers as they approach the 2010 legislative session. Minnesota will lag in economic development unless the state has an overall competitive environment to attract a broad spectrum of jobs -- no matter their "color."

Elements critical to retaining and creating jobs are at the heart of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's agenda. Employers need a world-class workforce. Businesses need a streamlined environmental permitting system that adds certainty, compresses the timeline so it's comparable to neighboring states and is less expensive.

Employers and employees alike need quality and affordable health care. Companies of all types and sizes statewide need a reliable supply of electricity at competitive rates. Minnesota will trail its peers in the economic recovery without meaningful spending and tax reforms.

Renewable energy and specifically the wind industry are at the foundation of many green initiatives. Witness the Blue Green Alliance, a partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations, that recently urged Congress to pass a federal renewable energy standard similar to Minnesota's. The alliance claims that 18.405 energy-related manufacturing jobs would be created in Minnesota.

Pardon the skepticism, but even a full-court press for green jobs -- any color of jobs for that matter -- will fall limp without the accompanying public policy that spurs rather than spurns business growth and retention.

We heard similar pronouncements of "green job" growth when Minnesota passed its renewable standard in 2007. We're hard pressed to identify any measureable creation of jobs that can be attributed to the mandate.

On the flip side, we can identify lost opportunities.

The Minnesota Chamber helped market Minnesota to a Danish "green" manufacturer. Though state government representatives focused heavily on Minnesota's dedication to green policies, the plant located in Nebraska where average electricity rates are about half those in the southern Minnesota communities it was considering.

Another green company is considering adding a facility in Minnesota. Economic developers are working hard to convince this company to choose Minnesota over a location in the Northeast where it can run the facility for about $14 million less on an annual basis. No tax incentive, training grant, development grant or low-interest loan has been left out of this deal in an effort to close the gap.

Policy-makers must understand the realties of economic development as Minnesota prepares to emerge from the recession. No. 1, the state's underlying business environment matters just as much to green companies as it does to every other Minnesota business. Companies need to locate where they can produce their goods at a competitive price.

No. 2, it's time to measure the net economic and job impact of energy mandates. We should put just as much "energy" into that effort as the environmental interest groups put into making the case for these requirements.

Minnesota is wise to continue to work hard to attract green jobs. The Minnesota Chamber promises to be a partner in advocating for all "color" of jobs. But the debate will be shortsighted -- and the results shortchanged -- if policy-makers do not give full attention to the broad scope of public policy necessary to make Minnesota an attractive place to do business.

Ginny Morris is president of Hubbard Radio, Minneapolis, and immediate past chairwoman of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.