BEMIDJI-The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is making its way across the state to get its message out before the 2018 legislative session starts. Their tour brought them to Bemidji on Thursday.

Jennifer Byers, vice president of chamber relations, said the statewide push is an annual opportunity to let communities know what the organization is planning to lobby for at the Legislature.

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"We go out prior to the session and share priorities of the business community. This is our chance to travel the state and really speak with our members," Byers said. "We spend more of our spring and summer visiting with local chambers and collecting all the data and ideas from those communities and compile them in the fall. Then, we get to where we are at now, so we're basically at the end of that process."

Jennifer Byers
Jennifer Byers

According to Byers, a top priority for the Chamber in 2018 is reforming tax law at the state level.

"The tax issues are important for us. With the federal tax bill passing, we see an opportunity to have tax reform in Minnesota as well. Currently, Minnesota is seen as a high tax state," Byers said. "We're third highest in personal income tax and third highest in corporate income tax. We think it's reasonable to try and get out of the top 10."

Some of the direct ideas for tax laws include:

• Using state revenue gains from federal tax reform to improve competitiveness.

• Providing relief for owners who report business income on personal income tax returns

• Conform Minnesota's estate tax to the federal level.

• Protect the research-and-development tax credit.

• Create protections against automatic tax inflators.

Another topic for 2018 that Byers said the Chamber is focusing on is workforce issues. However, Byers said not all of the work will be done at the state capitol.

"Workforce issues are very important and on the minds of employers right now. But most of our workforce efforts happen outside the Legislature," Byers said. "We try to help local organizations create partnerships between education and employers. That's probably more of an effective way to solve that problem."

One of the priorities the Chamber is planning to support at the Legislature is to have a statewide law prohibiting local governments from enacting wage and benefit mandates.

Research conducted by the Chamber showed that 73 percent of business owners interviewed found it difficult to fill jobs in Greater Minnesota.