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Minnesota Chambers talks local, statewide challenges during Potlatch Deltic tour

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce stopped at Potlatch Deltic on Monday during its policy tour, and spoke with local business owners about working on employment shortages and tax burdens.

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Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, speaks during a statewide policy tour on Monday, June 6, 2022, at Potlatch Deltic in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — As a part of its statewide policy tour, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce took a trip to Potlatch Deltic on Monday, June 6, to speak with local business owners on their current challenges.

The chamber, which represents over 2,300 businesses throughout Minnesota, tours the state each year to meet with business owners in different communities and speak with them about what policies could help their businesses thrive the most.

“We do this twice a year to really stay connected to our business communities,” said Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

This year that tour included a stop at Potlatch Deltic in Bemidji, where Loon began by meeting with local business owners to tell them about the chamber's recent successes and what they are continuing to work on.

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Attendees listen to Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon speak during a statewide policy tour on Monday, June 6, 2022, at Potlatch Deltic in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Recent achievements include getting the state legislature to refill the unemployment insurance fund, which had been depleted early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

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If it hadn’t passed, the cost would have been passed on to business owners in a payroll tax increase. As it stands, some businesses had already paid an increased rate before the bill passed, and will now need to be reimbursed.

“It ended up being a pretty heavy lift,” said Loon. “That was a really important victory for us.”

The conversation also included different challenges businesses are still facing, especially as they recover from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

One of these is the ongoing difficulty businesses have had finding and retaining employees, leading to staffing shortages across multiple industries.

The usual baseline measures for economic recovery seem optimistic, such as the unemployment rate, but according to Loon, this is missing part of the picture.

“There’s more to the story,” Loon said. “There’s still a gap between where we were and where we are today.”

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Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, listens to a tour guide during a tour of Potlatch Deltic on Monday, June 6, 2022, in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Unemployment in the state is currently sitting at 2.2%, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development , but this isn’t counting the number of people who are no longer searching for jobs.

According to Loon, there are still 75,000 Minnesotans who have not returned to the workforce since the pandemic began.

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“For us to really fill our true economic potential, we’ve got to have a workforce,” Loon said. “We have an opportunity to do better in this space.”

This issue has become one of the top priorities for the chamber and is something that they are going to continue to track and investigate.

Burdens on business

Loon also discussed how the chamber has been working to lower taxes, from the corporate level down to those that impact individuals.

“We don’t want to see new burdens placed on our business community and slow our economic growth,” Loon said.

Minnesota tends to have higher tax rates than its surrounding states, and there are a few taxes in particular that the chamber believes pose an undue burden on businesses.

“Most states do not assess an additional tax on their businesses that goes to the state’s general fund,” said Beth Kaldoun, the chamber’s vice president of tax and fiscal policy.

Reducing this particular tax has been a priority for the chamber in its legislative efforts, not just to help existing businesses and those looking to start one, but to encourage outside companies to locate in Minnesota.

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Beth Kadoun, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce vice president of tax and fiscal policy, speaks during a statewide policy tour on Monday, June 6, 2022, at Potlatch Deltic in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“Aside from our weather, our biggest challenge (to attracting business) is our regulatory environment,” Loon said. “They aren’t even looking at Minnesota.”

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Minnesota’s entrepreneurial rate and number of startups has been decreasing, something Loon considers very concerning.

“We used to be very competitive in the country, we’re becoming less,” Loon said. “We need to do better in this area.”

Loon believes that by reducing some of the regulatory obstacles to starting and maintaining a business, more people might be interested in becoming entrepreneurs.

Even though startup rates in the state are low, those businesses that do get started are more likely to succeed than in other states.

“The good news is our five-year survival rate is one of the best in the country,” Loon said. “We need to show (young people) there’s opportunity here.”

Related Topics: BUSINESSECONOMY
Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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