Douglas Loon will step in as president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce at a time when the state is in the national spotlight for its robust business community, but he says there’s plenty of work to do.
At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Loon currently works with Midwestern chambers to advocate at the federal level for business-friendly policies. He’ll lead Minnesota’s local efforts starting Sept. 8.
“The Minnesota business climate is still one of the areas that the Minnesota chamber and the business community as a whole still feel we need to improve,” said Loon, who lives with his wife, Republican state Rep. Jenifer Loon, in Eden Prairie.
He sat down this week with Finance & Commerce for a Q&A, condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Q: In your current role, you’re focused on the entire Midwest region. How does Minnesota compare with other Midwestern states?
A: It has a strong business climate. It has a very strong education network that has the ability to build a strong workforce that is attractive to businesses. There’s also a very strong entrepreneurial spirit here, where you can start a business, put your capital at risk and be rewarded for it.
Minnesota has done better than other states, but there’s a lot of room for improvement as well.
Q: The chamber has said Minnesota’s tax and regulatory policies could discourage economic growth. Still, the state has gotten a lot of attention for what’s going right. Is there really something that needs to be fixed in Minnesota’s economy?
A: There are areas to improve in the tax and regulatory space but there are also areas to protect.
We have a strong workforce. We have a standard of living here that people seek out. Quality of life, we want to protect as well. Those are all things that are critical components of a successful economy.
But the other areas continue to be something that the Minnesota Chamber and the business community need to be focused on moving forward.
Q: How would you describe the trajectory Minnesota’s business climate is on?
A: It’s good. We have a relatively low unemployment rate, compared to many other states around the country. We have a labor participation rate that’s better because we have a strong work ethic.
Yet, our businesses struggle in the areas of taxes and regulations.
I think Minnesota has its greatest potential for growth in the global marketplace. Minnesota is an exporting state. We always have been. There’s lots of room for growth.
Q: How does Minnesota capitalize on that potential?
A: We want to make sure from an advocacy level that the Legislature, regulatory agencies, the governor are working in tandem with the business community to make sure we’re as competitive as possible – in the tax and regulatory space, but also in other areas such as education and workforce development.
If we can accomplish those things, we can go a long way.
Q: There are some small business groups that have said lawmakers tend to favor bigger players. The Chamber represents 2,300 members of all sizes all around the state. How will you negotiate differing needs?
A: We want to be promoting the interests of larger companies but also protecting the interests of small businesses. Their voice is very important at the Capitol – we recognize that.
There are times when there is no consensus and there will be methods by which we’ll resolve that. And if we can’t, then sometimes we’ll sit issues out.
Q: There’s been discussion in recent years about how the state’s business and corporate groups don’t speak with a unified voice politically. Have you sensed a lack of coordination among business advocacy groups?
A: The business community is always going to wrestle with various points of view just as we wrestle with different points of view in the policy space.
The Minnesota chamber has a unique role in building a consensus and a sense of collaboration across other organizations, particularly those that belong to the Minnesota chamber. We’ll be seeking out that opportunity in the 2016 cycle.
Q. The chamber is nonpartisan, but how do you respond to critics who question whether your appointment — in part because you’re married to Rep. Loon — is a sign the organization leans Republican?
A: I’m married to Rep. Jenifer Loon. She just so happens to be a Republican. My personal views are set aside in my role as president of the Minnesota chamber.
We look at each individual candidate based upon their record, and each individual candidate that is seeking office for the first time based upon their views on business issues.
Q: Does the chamber’s approach shift in an election year?
A: When we set our policy agenda, it’s done based upon the views of our membership given the environment that our state is in at that time. That does not adjust much.
The only adjustments are made based upon what happened in the previous session that needs to be followed up on, and the broad business agenda as it relates to specific issues.
Title: Incoming president, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
Current title: Vice president for Regional Affairs and Advocacy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Education: Bachelor’s degree in government and international affairs from Augustana College in South Dakota
Family: Wife, state Rep. Jenifer Loon, and two daughters
Home: Eden Prairie