is in comparatively good economic condition today.
Peterson, commissioner of
Minnesota's Department of Labor and Industry, noted that
per-capita income growth between 2011 and 2012 ($800) was second in
the country to that of North Dakota, which was $3,000, due to its oil
industry. Our unemployment rate is about two percentage points better
than the nation's.
Minnesota's per capita income is $46,227. On a regional basis, that's
the highest per capita of what he called "Big Ten" states, the states
across the northern Midwest from Nebraska to Pennsylvania.
"It hasn't always been that way," Peterson said. "At the end of World
per capita income was 15 percent below the national average. We were
an underperforming state. Today we're punching way above our weight
class. We perform very well." He noted that only four other states
that were below the national average at the end of World War II have
grown to become above the national average: Virginia, New Hampshire,
North Dakota and Wyoming.
response to a question about what Minnesota's competitive advantage
will be in the next 20 to 30 years, Peterson named several: a good,
strong work force; strong infrastructure; strong education; a wide
diversity of industries and companies; and growth of companies built
and owned by native Minnesotans.
cannot depend on others; we must self-finance.
North Dakota, Peterson said, Minnesota can't count on oil. "And
year-in and year-out, we're among the lowest beneficiaries of federal
spending. We have to self-finance. We're unlike the other fast-growing
or high-income states."
He went on to say that
has self-financed through the post-World War II era. "We've built a
lot of roads, built a lot of schools and put a lot of money into
higher education," he said. "We believe we have to continue to do the
same thing. Our spending on higher education is about where it was 30
years ago, or maybe a little bit lower than that. We've been living
off the past and we haven't been investing in our infrastructure or in
our schools or in our young people."
"We must put more money into education, from early childhood up
through higher education," he continued. "We must put more money into
"It's important to recognize that we have to self-finance," Peterson
said. "We can't depend on others. The federal government is not going
to save us. Copper in northeast
Minnesota is not going to save us. Agriculture did well last year, but
that's only part of our overall economy. If we want to be a
high-income state, we need to be a high-tax state. We can't avoid
Mark Dayton administration's chief jobs goal is education.
"That's the best job program there is," Peterson said. "That's where
we're putting the money." He said the governor and both houses of the
Legislature are also proposing more money for traditional economic
development programs, such as the Minnesota
Investment Fund, which provides financing to help add new workers
and retain high-quality industrial, manufacturing and technology
related jobs; and the Minnesota
Job Skills Partnership, which works with businesses and
educational institutions to train or retrain workers, expand work
opportunities and keep high-quality jobs in the state.
Manufacturing has changed and
much of it requires highly skilled employees. "We're
trying to do more in the high-skill jobs," said Peterson. "Now you go
into a factory and where there used to be 10 people working on an
assembly line, there are two. They're not putting things together.
They're using robotics, turning dials, measuring or gauging things.
It's not your father's or your grandfather's assembly line." He noted
that manufacturing jobs are not necessarily "dirty jobs" any more. "We
must do better at selling those jobs and educate people that this type
of work has changed," he said.
college degree is not the right path for everyone.
An interviewer asked Peterson what he sees as the job market
possibilities for kids in junior and senior high who aren't interested
in a college degree. He responded that the
Minnesota State Colleges and University (MnSCU) schools do a "great
job." He cited the example of the state partnering with
Technical College on a precision manufacturing apprenticeship program.
He said the state must invest more in training for precision
Peterson suggested that school counselors and others are still saying
how important it is to go to college. "It's also parents, teachers and
other adults they know talking to them about the importance of
college. But the jobs for a lot of college graduates just aren't
there," he said. "We're trying to convey this to as many school
counselors as possible."
contrast, he said, "We're spending a lot of time encouraging people to
go into the construction trades. We'll be losing a lot of people in
those areas. Some of those are very high-paying jobs." He noted that
at one time,
Minnesota had 375,000 people working in manufacturing. Now there are
about 300,000. "It may not be growing as fast as I'd like to see, but
it's still an important part of our economy," he said.
explained that the state is losing lots of construction workers, since
they can usually only work until they're 50 or 55, as well as many
people in manufacturing. "We have to encourage young people to go into
those careers," he said. "It's a serious problem. We need to do more
hands-on, tactile training in junior and senior high and more
industrial arts and metal shop classes. The challenge is to convince
people of the need for them. We must involve more companies so they
can let kids know that there are jobs available in these fields."
must attack obstacles to the hiring of people of color and people with
An interviewer asked Peterson to comment on points made by several
recent Civic Caucus speakers: (1)
low high-school graduation rates for minority students and (2) the
coming severe shortage of its skilled workers. Peterson responded, "We
are trying to spend more time in inner-city schools to interest kids
in programs that are in manufacturing and construction particularly.
Maybe we can show them that this is their chance to get ahead."
He noted that one in
four African American men ends up in prison. "Finding jobs for people
who have served time is a real problem. There are lots of obstacles.
We should sit down some day and make an analysis of 10 to 20 obstacles
and then try to go ahead and attack them."
chartered schools could focus on helping train students for the
An interviewer asked if we should reinstate vocational high schools.
Peterson answered that chartered schools can move more quickly and
said the building trades unions and construction contractors have
thought of creating a chartered school. "But they don't want to
produce more people than the market will employ," he said. "More
unemployed electricians, for example, won't help anybody. It's a
question of how many electricians you want to train for the
Finding the proper balance between high-tech jobs on the manufacturing
side and on the engineering side is a problem.
In response to a question, Peterson said, "People are aware of the
problem. Engineers can't do much if we can't manufacture the things
they're designing. And manufacturers can't do much if the engineers
aren't designing things. At MnSCU and the
of Minnesota, they're very aware of it. We have to be constantly
checking that out."
small manufacturers aren't willing to pay high wages to attract
skilled workers, because they're competing in national and
An interviewer commented that one of problems that contribute to the
perceived skills gap is that the wages for these attractive jobs in
manufacturing don't reflect the dearth of skilled laborers. "If
manufacturers were serious about attracting skilled labor, they would
increase their wages in order to obtain the labor force they need,"
Peterson responded that is true in some circumstances. However, in
Minnesota manufacturers are smaller ones. "They're very intimately
tied in to national and international labor markets," he said. "Some
manufacturers aren't willing to take that risk of taking a long-term
view." He noted that most job openings in the state are part-time and
most of them are in restaurants or hotels. "Working in manufacturing
pays a lot better than working at Starbucks and has a better long-term
future, too," he said.
Dayton administration is backing the Mayo Clinic proposal for a major
expansion in Rochester.
"We want to be sure they invest their money here, as opposed to
Florida or Arizona. It's a very good thing. It'd be easier to pass it
if it were located in the Twin Cities. We're putting a lot of effort
into it, but we're having a hard time convincing some people of the
necessity of it."
explained that any area, a region or a state or a nation, wants money
coming in from the outside, regardless of whether it's from other
states or countries. "You want to export products or services in
exchange for revenues that allow you to consume more or produce more
goods or services. Mayo Clinic, by providing health care to thousands
from other states and nations, brings in a lot of money from all over
the country and the world into
Minnesota. It affects the whole state. We just have to convince people
of the need to help finance the next round of Mayo's growth."
should do as much copper-nickel mining as possible, if it can be done
An interviewer asked about the pros and cons of mining copper and
nickel in the state. "If we can do it without affecting the Boundary
Waters Canoe Area and the area around there, we should do as much of
it as we can. Part of the problem is that the history of copper-nickel
mining has not been real good. It's hard to convince people this time
will be different."
Another interviewer commented that we shouldn't be referring to
technology that was used two centuries ago or more. "Let's change it,"
he said. "There are new techniques. Whether they can be made
economical or not is a fair question. Let's see what can be done
instead of living in the past." He suggested having the
University of Minnesota try to find a clean-water approach to
copper-nickel mining. Peterson said people proposing the mining have
said they can now do it pretty cleanly.
Peterson is optimistic about this legislative session.
In response to a question, Peterson said he is "pretty optimistic"
about what will happen in this legislative session regarding jobs,
economic development and education. "Nothing happens in one
legislative session or maybe even four or five," he said. "It's a
long-term commitment to these things."
Peterson believes that we should remember to think about Minnesota as
a place where we self-finance and generally take care of ourselves.
"We can't count on anybody else," Peterson said, reiterating his
earlier statements. "The federal government's never going to be a big
player here, nor will our natural resources be as important as oil,
for example. We have to continue to take care of ourselves, if we want
to succeed as a society in 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years."