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ISSUE 121 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/11/2008

Commerce examined

By Aaron Rozanski
Associate Editor


Friday, April 11, 2008

The future of the Minnesota economy was the hot topic Tuesday night as the St. Olaf Political Action Committee hosted a dinner with Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Bill Blazar. In addition to addressing the current state of the Minnesota economy, Blazar also looked ahead to the November elections and the issues that the business community is facing.

"People will most likely vote their pocketbooks," Blazar stated. "While the Minnesota economy is looking pretty strong, the Twin Cities' economy is in poor shape, and it will make for a very important election year."

While the presidential election is on the minds of local businesses, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce tailors more to issues at the state level. Currently they have seven lobbyists at the state capitol and keep regular communication with the Minnesota Legislature, Governor Tim Pawlenty, Attorney General Lori Swanson and other state executive offices.

"We are practical during campaign season, and tend to focus our attention largely on the Minnesota Legislature," he noted. "We like to stay out of Congress and Senate and really work with what we have."

As far as what gets done on the state level, Blazar pointed to some specific issues that concern the business community, including health care, energy, taxes and education. All of the different businesses represented have different interests, and so they must be met with to discuss these issues.

"We are a membership based organization serving over 2,400 businesses throughout Minnesota," Blazar said. "Therefore we deal mainly with work force issues and inform the companies of where the issues stand at the state level."

With such an expansive area to cover and with the large number of business involved, it becomes rather difficult to find easy solutions that all of the businesses and workers will agree on.

"We're always thinking on two levels," Blazar stated. "One is if we can go to a state agency and solve the problem, or the better solution is to resolve the issue on our own through private sector solutions."

Clearly, however, many of these disputes cannot be settled via private sector solutions, and must turn to state agencies. With all of these different companies and their respective interests, the upcoming elections carry some critical implications to the state of the Minnesota economy.

"Some of the most interesting and important elections will be seen in the suburban races," Blazar opined. "Of course, people also might want to watch the race for Senate between Norm Coleman and most likely Al Franken, pending his DFL nomination."

For the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, however, any support for specific candidates must be voiced through independent expenditures. Of the 134 total races occurring in the state of Minnesota, the Chamber of Commerce splits them into piles depending on their implications for the state economy and local businesses. From there, however, it is all up to the individuals.

"We are limited a great deal by the state law here in Minnesota," Blazar said. "Companies themselves cannot give money supporting a certain candidate, so we focus on getting people out to vote and spreading awareness of these issues facing the business community."

For students and others interested in learning more or getting involved with economic issues around Minnesota, the Chamber of Commerce offers internships and entry-level positions for assistance in resolving these issues.

"We like to work with undergraduates or people right out of college who are interested in public affairs and public policy," Blazar noted. "With the wide range of issues that we face, experts or professionals aren't always the most valuable."





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