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Spotlight on MN economic development efforts

Fleshing out the state’s workforce and fostering a from-the-inside-out approach to growing the state’s economy are lynchpins of the governor’s strategy to boost economic development in Minnesota, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said Monday.

In particular, a multibillion-dollar effort to create the Destination Medical Center in Rochester and a history of innovation-geared partnerships between the government, private business and the University of Minnesota form a solid foundation for growth, she said.

Smith’s comments came during a showcase of Minnesota’s economic development initiatives organized in part by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s economic development branch.

More than 40 high-ranking officials from Latin American and Caribbean countries were at the university to hear Smith’s forecast for economic development in the state, a central focus of a multi-day tour of the upper Midwest to pinpoint best practices and tighten ties between potential cross-border business partners.

“One thing that’s very much on our minds as policymakers is how we can continue to nourish entrepreneurship and innovation,” Smith said. “Our strategy is more to identify high-growth, high-potential companies in our own state and to help them grow.”

Federal officials lauded the state’s long list of public-private partnerships, including many that rope in the University of Minnesota system, as a prime model for growth-oriented planning – part of what drew organizers to the state in the first place.

In particular, Minnesota’s wide-reaching efforts to parlay its toehold in the health care and med- tech sectors into a broader network of world-class businesses serve as an effective blueprint for resource allocation and stoking entrepreneurship, said Matt Erskine, deputy assistant secretary for economic development at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Minnesota has historically been about manufacturing, agriculture and other industries,” Erskine said. “But it clearly has been a hotbed of innovation activity.”

Moving forward, Smith said the Dayton administration will remain especially focused on keeping up the state’s reputation for a well-educated, highly skilled workforce. As a potential labor shortage looms, she said, funneling public money into education – a controversial prospect among Republican legislators this session – will be a key piece of the overall growth strategy.

In addition, Minnesota’s exports carry significant potential for the state to build up its reputation around the globe, Smith said, noting more robust activity than ever between the state’s exporters and Mexico – now its second-biggest export partner. With $2.2 billion in exports in 2014, a 52 percent increase over the previous year, Mexico leapfrogged China and lands behind only Canada, according to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

That’s where connections made during Monday’s event could come into view. Two previous tours as part of the same program, in the southeastern U.S. and in Mexico, served as the foundation for partnerships between universities, businesses and government officials, organizers said.

“It’s meant to be something that’s more than just a business trip,” said Maryse Robert, director of the department of economic development at the Organization of American States, the international group that helped coordinate this week’s trip.

After hearing from Smith and U of M representatives spearheading research in fields as diverse as apples and iron ore, the international delegation headed to the Mayo Clinic to see first-hand a wave of development reshaping the world-renowned facility and Rochester.

The Destination Medical Center, the state’s showpiece economic development initiative, will inject $5.6 billion plus other private investment into expansive new infrastructure that will firm up Rochester’s place as one of the world’s premier destinations for medical treatment and research.

Smith, who sits on the center’s board, reinforced Monday that the effort is expected to bring between 30,000 and 40,000 new jobs to Rochester. By the time the project is completed, expected in 20 years, it is anticipated to feed billions of dollars in new tax revenue for the state.

The project weaves public and private investment together on a mass scale to prop up what will be the state’s biggest economic development initiative. Board members are expected to approve exhaustive plans for the site this month, potentially as soon as this week.

“Minnesota is doing a lot of really great, innovating programming around economic development,” Erskine said.

After their stop in Rochester, the international delegation will visit Wisconsin and Illinois.

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