2015 Minnesota economy: ‘Better start than finish’
Forecasting the Minnesota economy can feel like shaking a crazy 8 ball, but Bill Blazar of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce was able to give an economic judgement to a room full of local business leaders, bankers and government leaders.
Blazar admits that Minnesota’s economy in 2015 was a “better start than finish.”
“It’s still growing, but not at the rate you would have seen eight to 10 months ago,” Blazar told the group of local professionals gathered at Daikin Applied Americas Inc. for the 15th annual Grow Minnesota annual luncheon hosted by the Owatonna Chamber of Commerce and Tourism on Dec. 9.
With a title as long as “Minnesota Chamber Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development,” Blazar is bound to know a thing or two about Minnesota economy.
He shared that each year’s economy depends on the decisions made two years ago. The 2013 economy was greatly shaped by the 2015 economy, and similarly, 2015 will shape 2017’s economy.
For the 2016 economy, Blazar looked to 2014 for 2016’s forecast. He predicts that recessions and difficulties in the global economy and limited number of new products will challenge and slow economic growth in 2016.
Apparently Blazar considers 2014 a good year for Minnesota economy, but 2016 won’t mirror that. “We won’t get back to where it was in 2014 until we get through 2016,” he said.
What can make a difference? Change.
“Change drives economic growth, to the extent that if we’re not changing, we’re no likely to grow,” said Blazar. “We are still a homegrown economy. We depend on individual businesses to start and grow here.”
Change and thinking now in 2015 is the key to thinking ahead to 2017. “That’s when we’ll see improvement,” said Blazar. “We’ve seen great decisions in 2015…the trend for the region has been good and will help sustain growth in 2017.”
As part of Grow Minnesota, Blazar and fellow state Chamber representatives have visited local Chamber of Commerce groups across the state. He shared what they have learned in their visits.
He shared that there are four decisions on the minds of business leaders: whether or not to innovate, whether or not to export to the U.S. and world, whether or not to invest and whether or not to add workers and train them.
Blazar said that many issues standing is the way of business success are taxes, transportation and work force. He said that many business owners feel helpless in that “they don’t think that legislatures can solve their problems.”
He said that taking local action is important, especially in building a capable work force. “This is something to work on one community at a time,” he said. “It is a significant problem and needs our attention.”
Of the 27 companies that Grow Minnesota visited in 2015, 12 or 43 percent said that they were going to add workers, but they had concerns about finding people to fill those positions.
Positions that were presented as hard to fill were installation, construction, automotive, maintenance, trade workers, assembly workers, production, architects, engineers, cartographers, sale agents and real estate agents.
Collaboration between educators and the business community to educate students on their possibilities is something that he recommended. This is something that the local Chamber of Commerce and Tourism and United Way have been working towards, as they host not one but three “Made in Owatonna” days per year.
“I think we’re seeing more companies saying ‘I want to hire young people, say out of high school, train them or get them into an education program, while they’re working at the company’,” said Blazar. “Adaption is the key to solving problems…It is a more diverse work force, but companies haven’t changed the hiring process.”
In conclusion, Blazar stated “I don’t think we can solve the issues in one night, but with local initiative, we can improve the workforce outlet in communities like Owatonna.”
Daikin’s Director of Operations Craig Vastaas spoke to the products made at their facilities. He shared that Daikin is the world’s number one producer of air conditioning, heating and ventilation equipment.
Following the Grow Minnesota presentation, many professionals put on safety glasses to tour the Daikin Applied facilities that was recently expanded.