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Other Opinion: Economic study long overdue

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In 30 years, dating back to the administration of Gov. Rudy Perpich, no one has studied — really studied — Minnesota’s private-sector economy. Yes, the railroad industry, health care industry, and other “silos” have been examined and scrutinized individually. “But nobody has stitched them all together and done a comprehensive look,” Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon said in a sit-down last week with a News Tribune reporter and with members of the News Tribune Editorial Board.

But that’s happening now. The Minnesota Chamber Foundation has embarked on that deep dive, an undertaking it calls Minnesota 2030. A report three years in the making, steeped in the successes of the past and with a goal of providing a guide to prosperity for the future, is expected to be ready for public consumption in January.

“It is designed to provide us with a full understanding of the strengths and weaknesses and challenges of our economy. And … what do we need to do as far as building blocks for the future?” Loon said. “Are there areas that we need to be focusing on to strengthen the economy to make sure that — and this is really essential — we meet our state’s full potential economically? I would argue that currently we are not meeting the state’s economic potential.”

He pointed to a Wall Street Journal article last month to illustrate that he isn’t the only one who feels that way. The Oct. 8 story cited a year-over-year uptick in Minnesota’s unemployment rate as a “possibility that the state’s robust labor market may be faltering.”

“We are still in a period of growth, but not strong growth,” Ron Wirtz, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, warned in the piece.

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“We need to understand why that is and what we can do collectively as a state and as a business community to make sure we’re prepared for the future,” Loon said.

So the timing of Minnesota 2030 seems particularly imperative — with Duluth’s port activities, and perhaps Northeastern Minnesota’s coming copper nickel mines, likely to play key roles in the study. Other state strengths that promise to be highlighted include other natural-resources industries like paper-making and pulp production, as well as health care and health care technology.

The study has some powerhouse minds behind it from both the business world and academia. They include study Chairwoman Susan Marvin, the former CEO of Marvin Windows and Doors, and, on its economic advisory council, Myles Shaver from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.

The global economic forecasting and reporting giant IHS Markit, headquartered in London, has been tapped to assist. It previously worked with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, so has an understanding of the state already.

The undertaking has included focus groups and small-group meetings held statewide to gather information and feedback. Economic centers like Duluth are being looked at closely. So are the ways rural communities participate in regional economies and how Minnesota’s economic centers connect to each other, Loon said.

While the study may help guide the chamber’s work and the public-policy decisions made by elected bodies, “This is about having a more thorough understanding of our state’s economy and its opportunities and challenges,” Loon said.

It’s the sort of long-overdue look Minnesota hasn’t been able to benefit from for three long decades.

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