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Owatonna People's Press: Secretary Simon wants to streamline the path to business creation in Minnesota

July 25, 2016

“The mission of our office is to make it as easy as possible to start a business in Minnesota, and as easy as possible to continue a business.”

Owatonna People's Press: Secretary of State discusses business data, elections
By William Morris, 7/21/16

OWATONNA — Secretary of State Steve Simon wants to streamline the path to business creation in Minnesota.

“The mission of our office is to make it as easy as possible to start a business in Minnesota, and as easy as possible to continue a business,” he said at a meeting Thursday at the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

Simon is touring the state — he had five meetings Thursday along — to talk about several initiatives he hopes will help his office better serve the business community. In Owatonna, he spoke with representatives of the chamber and city government about two projects: a quarterly economic report and a new survey for all state businesses.

The economic and business conditions report covered 11 counties in southeast Minnesota and included data on economic indicators, new business filings, labor markets and bankruptcies. Simon asked attendees whether there was other information that would be of value and how it could be better formatted to meet companies’ needs.

In responding, attendees focused on the topic of job vacancies. Community Development Director Troy Klecker noted that the city currently sits at 2.8 percent unemployment and will be adding at least 230 new jobs at four industrial projects currently underway. The quarterly report, he said, could let the city identify areas that might have workers willing to relocate to town.

“Maybe as a community we have to go out and recruit with businesses,” he said. “We’re getting in the position where we’ll have to go out with them.”

The other project Simon discussed is a proposal to add a short survey whenever a new company files for registration or an existing company files a renewal online. Simon stressed the survey would be entirely voluntary and very short, but could help the state identify businesses owned by veterans, determine what industries are seeing growth and estimate revenues and employment in different industries and parts of the state.

“We hoping to roll this out sometime in early 2017,” he said. “It would be totally optional. People could click right past it or answer some but not all, but it’s an experiment. … This data in this form doesn’t exist anywhere that we know of.”

Local leaders expressed concerns about which information would be made public — which could be all of it, Simon said, if it is requested — but said additional information would help them get a more fine-tuned sense of the strengths and weaknesses in the local economy.

After the meeting, Simon answered a few questions about another major topic overseen by his office, election administration. Simon described several new programs to increase voter turnout and said he was in favor of a law passed this year to transition from caucuses to primaries for presidential campaigns.

“I had one condition for it — I will only support this if you reimburse the county,” he said. “Elections are expensive. … The legislature did its duty, did right by the counties, and came up with, in law, the promise to appropriate money.”

Simon stressed that the caucus system will remain in place for all other elected offices, but said the primary would allow voters to weigh in on presidential candidates even if they couldn’t attend a 7 p.m. caucus.

“There are so many more on-ramps for participation in a primary than a caucus,” he said. “I think this will boost turnout and interest and accessibility, and it’s good for democracy.”

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