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Updated: 33 weeks 2 days ago

Mining jobs pay a lot more than tourism jobs — and are not seasonal

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 10:58am

Re: "Mining Minnesota study misfires on tourism," by Marshall Helmberger.

Mining and tourism have existed in northeast Minnesota for generations and will continue to do so for future generations. When you try to compare mining jobs to tourism jobs it shows the stark difference in wages and benefits.

Direct mining jobs in northeast Minnesota pay $82,363 a year without including benefits. For every one of these direct jobs 2.24 mining related jobs are created, paying an average of $68,444 a year. When you combine the two, the total jobs created is 5,140 at an average wage of $81,500 a year.

Now let’s look at tourism jobs. The Praxis study in northeast Minnesota shows a total of 6,390 direct and indirect tourism jobs in northeast Minnesota paying an average of $18,207 with little to no benefits. Even if you add in the food service workers, as Helmberger suggests, it only raises the wage to approximately $23,000 a year. Another point not brought into the equation by Helmberger is the fact that tourism is a seasonal industry. A certain percentage of businesses close over the winter. This causes their employees to either go on unemployment or try to seek employment elsewhere.

Mining keeps miners working around the clock 365 days a year. These are the people that keep the food and drink establishments operating in the off tourism time of the year.

Which would you rather have? A job in mining, paying $81,500 a year with benefits or a job in tourism paying $23,000 a year with little to no benefits?

We choose mining and that’s why Minnesota Miners, a pro-mining group in northeast Minnesota, supports the development of the PolyMet Northmet mine. We also support the renewal of Twin Metals' mineral leases and stopping the withdrawal of 435,000 acres of the Superior National Forest from mining. 

Michael A. Cole is the CEO of Minnesota Miners. 

If someone tells you they know how much restaurant servers make, don’t believe them

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 8:51am
Greta Kaul

The next time someone tells you how much money the average restaurant server makes in Minneapolis, you should probably take it with a grain of salt.

The topic’s gotten a lot of attention as Minneapolis debates whether or not tips should count toward a $15-an-hour citywide minimum wage that looks likely to pass in one form or another (as long as it doesn’t get quashed in St. Paul). And lots of people have answers: some cite a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey at an average of about $10 an hour, and others a Minnesota Restaurant Association-affiliated survey that found tipped workers make an average $28.56 an hour.

The chasm between those numbers is bigger than the $15 value of the minimum wage up for discussion at City Hall, which is to say, not trivial. The fight over the tip credit — whether or not employers will be required to pay all employees, tipped or not, at least the minimum wage if it increases — largely hinges on this issue. The problem: it’s a question experts say is almost impossible to accurately answer.

What people say servers make

Currently, Minnesota is one of seven states whose minimum wage does not include a tip carve out. That means workers who are tipped and workers who aren’t collect the same wage at minimum, $9.50 an hour from large employers and $7.75 from small ones.

Pathway to $15, a campaign by the Minnesota Restaurant Association, advocates changing that in Minneapolis, if the city moves ahead with a $15 an hour minimum wage. The organization argues forcing restaurants to pay servers $15 an hour regardless of the tips they make could hurt restaurants’ bottom lines, and ultimately workers if businesses cut back their hours and raise prices.

In March, Pathway to $15 released the results of a survey of 72 Minneapolis restaurants during the month of October that found tipped workers made an average of $28.56 an hour, working an average 19.1 hours per week.

The survey was sent to more than 500 restaurants in the city — “everybody for whom we had email addresses,” both members and non-members of the Restaurant Association, said Dan McElroy, the executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association. Responses came in from the likes of Red Cow, Crave, Hola Arepa, Manny’s Steakhouse, Pizza Luce and D. Brian’s Kitchen and Catering.

“We chose October because it didn’t have any paid holidays (where people would be off work and dining in restaurants extra days),” McElroy said. “Patios were largely open, but it was away from the holidays.”

The Restaurant Association asked respondents to record wage and tip data based on what they would report for taxes on a spreadsheet and send it in. McElroy said the group had an actuary look over the methodology.

“I am as confident as I can be that these numbers we are reporting are correct,” he said.

But not everyone agrees.

After the report came out, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national group that advocates for a flat minimum wage, released a statement rebutting the claims the Restaurant Association made. Their complaints included that the lack of information on the survey’s methodology makes it unclear whether the sample accurately represents the cross-section of Minneapolis restaurants, high end to low end. They also argue that in October, a Minneapolis Restaurant Week causes servers to earn more money.

“It’s clear that servers who work in fine dining restaurants earn high wages, it’s true — the higher the bill, the higher the tips are going to be,” said Teófilo Reyes, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United’s research director. But he and others doubt that number is representative of an average across the profession, pointing out that many restaurant servers live in poverty.

Reyes said he believes the Bureau of Labor Statistics' estimates (figures compiled by the National Employment Law Project are often cited), which put Twin Cities-area waiters and waitresses at an average $10.29 an hour, are the best available. In February, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges wrote a post opposing the tip penalty on the city’s website that also cited the BLS numbers.

But there are problems with the BLS estimate, too.

First, it comes from a survey of the whole wide Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metropolitan statistical area, which includes 14 Minnesota counties and two in western Wisconsin. The minimum wage debate is focused on a relatively small chunk of that area, Minneapolis, and where a concentration of higher-end restaurants likely makes workers a bit more money than in suburban and rural spots.

“To me (that) sounds low,” for Minneapolis, said Celeste Robinson, with $15 Now, a group that’s been advocating to raise the wage to $15 an hour without a tip carve out. “I’ve worked in the service industry and not in a high-end restaurant ... (but) you can make a lot of money some days, (and) might go home with very little in your pocket some days, which is why it's very important to have a baseline wage.” She also pointed out that some tipped workers aren’t restaurant servers, and could be making less.

Second, the BLS estimates are based on a survey of employers who might not have complete information about what their servers make.

Tips that are left on credit cards are automatically reported to employers, but it’s common for servers not to report all their cash tips. That’s becoming less of an issue as more customers are paying with plastic, but it still creates hurdles for people trying to compile accurate data.

“The reporting of wages and tips is dependent upon the employer both knowing the tips paid to the employee and including that in the questionnaire response,” wrote Cassandra Wirth, a BLS economist, in an email. If a profession is clearly tipped, and it’s obvious the employer didn’t include tips, the BLS might leave a survey response out — but that depends on the bureau’s ability to identify that.

The Census Bureau has data for Minneapolis alone, but it includes “food preparation and serving related occupations,” which would include jobs that aren’t tipped, doesn’t break the number down to an hourly wage, which requires making assumptions about how much time workers spend at their jobs, and relies on workers being able to accurately report how much money they make. Wages for tipped workers can vary from week to week, said Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist and the co-chair of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California at Berkeley who studies restaurant economics (Allegretto is opposed to tip credits).

SurveyWorkersGeographic areaIncomeData sourceBureau of Labor Statistics (compiled by the National Employment Law Project)Waiters and waitressesMinneapolis-St. Paul statistical area$8.98/hr (median); $10.29/hr (mean)Occupational Employment Statistics survey,  2012-2015U.S. Census BureauFood preparation and serving related occupationsMinneapolis$12/hr (median)*2015 American Community surveyPathway to $15Tipped workersMinneapolis$28.56/hr (mean)Voluntary survey emailed to Minneapolis restaurants in October, 2016*The Census Bureau doesn’t estimate hourly wages. Calculation by Teófilo Reyes, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United’s research director, assuming 30 hrs/week (the median for servers according to the American Community Survey) and 52 weeks of work per year.

Allegretto argues that talk of averages is somewhat misleading in the first place: first, depending on the type of establishment, the amount tipped workers make can vary wildly.

And second, even for the same server, wages can be volatile from shift to shift — because of the weather, because of the time of day (is it Monday afternoon or Saturday night?) and other things out of a server’s control.

“Are there some workers in the industry who make lavish wages due to their tips? I’m sure there are, but you have to think of the worker working at an all-night truckstop or at a Denny’s or at all the lower-end establishments that exist and how are they making ends meet?” she said.

Data quality issues

All of these issues add up to a murky picture of server wages.

“There are some serious data quality issues that make it hard to know the full story behind tipped workers,” wrote Jacob Vigdor, one of the professors at the University of Washington working on the Seattle Minimum Wage Study, in an email, referring specifically to unreported income.

Asked whether there was a way to get a good estimate of average server wages, Vigdor said he’s come to the conclusion it would a tricky undertaking.

It would either require restaurant owners to open their accounting books — showing any credit card tips that were “cashed out,” (credit card tips that are distributed to the server in cash at the end of the night, which don’t necessarily show up in wage records), or require a methodological survey of waiters and waitresses asking about income not reported on W-2s, which “might be unreliable for several reasons,” he wrote.

FISH project that reduced mercury levels in North Shore women is expanding statewide

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 8:41am
Susan Perry

An initiative to reduce mercury levels among pregnant women living in northeastern Minnesota by getting them to change their fish consumption habits has been effective and is being expanded to include women throughout the state, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced on Monday.

North Shore women who took part in the initiative successfully lowered their mercury levels by being more careful about which types (species) of fish they ate — and how often they ate them.

“We don’t want to discourage women from eating fish, but we want to encourage them to eat fish that is low in mercury,” said Pat McCann, a research scientist for MDH, in a phone interview with MinnPost.

For the North Shore women, that often meant eating less walleye and lake trout, she said, but not eating less fish overall.

A source of lasting health problems

McCann and her colleagues launched the initiative, called the Fish are Important to Superior Health (FISH) project, after a 2011 MDH study found that 1 in 10 newborns in the North Shore/Arrowhead region had unhealthy levels of mercury in their blood.

Mercury is a toxic metal. Babies who are exposed to too much of it in the womb may experience neurological damage that can lead to long-term learning difficulties, as well as vision and hearing problems.

Contaminated fish are the primary source of high mercury levels in the United States. The mercury gets into the fish through airborne pollution — often from the burning of fossil fuels — which settles in the water and eventually makes its way into the food chain. Both fish and humans easily absorb a type of mercury known as methylmercury, making it especially dangerous. The larger and older the fish, the more methylmercury they are likely to have in their bodies — and the greater the threat to human health.

Yet, while fish can be a source of unhealthful levels of mercury, they are also a source of healthful fatty acids. 

“Studies have shown that babies whose mothers have eaten low-mercury fish during pregnancy do better developmentally,” said McCann. 

An educational project

The 499 women of childbearing age from Cook County, the Grand Portage reservation and the surrounding area who participated in the FISH project were therefore not told to stop eating fish. Research has shown, said McCann, that when women are informed about the dangers of mercury in fish, they often eliminate all fish — including healthy fish — from their diet.

Instead, the women’s health-care providers counseled them about what species of fish to eat and how often to eat them.

Walleye, northern pike, lake trout, bass and catfish, for example, should be eaten no more than once a month, according to the MDH, while other Minnesota favorites, such as lake herring (also known as Cisco), crappie, bullhead and lake whitefish, can be eaten once a week.

When the women were enrolled in the FISH project (between June 2014 and June 2015), their blood was tested for mercury and healthy fatty acids. Data from the study revealed that the women in the project ate more fish than women nationally — not surprising, given the North Shore’s strong cultural connection to fishing, said McCann. They also tended to have higher fatty acid levels and blood mercury levels than women nationally.

Only 3 percent of the women in the project had mercury levels above the level of concern. That’s much lower than the 10 percent found in the 2011 study, and it’s the same percentage seen in women nationally. That finding suggests that in recent years many women in northeastern Minnesota have been following health officials’ recommendations regarding fish consumption, said McCann.

Some of the women in the FISH project, including 15 with concerning levels of mercury in their blood, were re-tested six months later. That follow-up data revealed positive changes. The women’s mercury levels had declined, undoubtedly because they had reduced — as counseled — their consumption of walleye, lake trout and other fish species high in mercury.

“We also found that participating in the project didn’t cause the women to eat less low-mercury fish, and that was good,” said McCann.

New resources

The MDH, in partnership with HealthPartners, has published a fish-consumption brochure — customized for different regions of the state and translated into several languages — which will be distributed to women and families in all health-care systems across Minnesota.

They’ve also launched a website, ChooseYourFish.org, to help inform Minnesotans about how often different types of fish can be eaten to minimize exposure to mercury. The website also offers recipes, videos and tips for selecting and cooking fish.

“How much fish you can eat and how often depends on who you are,” said McCann.

Pregnant women and kids need to be particularly careful about the fish they eat, she stressed, but people should not be afraid to eat fish.

“The benefits outweigh the risks — if you eat fish low in mercury,” she said.

FYI: At the ChooseYourFish.org website, you’ll find helpful lists of the fish to eat and the fish to avoid — from Minnesota lakes and rivers as well as from stores and restaurants. Among the fish-related cooking tips on the website is a helpful video from British chef Gordon Ramsey on what to look for when buying fish.  The MDH also has information at its Fish Consumption Guidance website.

Minnesota Opera production is everything you want a 'Bohème' to be

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 8:14am
Pamela Espeland

Because “La Bohème” has already been updated – it’s called “Rent” – most opera companies don’t feel the need to set it in Weimar-era Berlin or dress the cast in motorcycle jackets. They leave it when and where composer Giacomo Puccini put it: in 19th-century Paris, in the Latin Quarter, mostly in winter. That, thank goodness, is what Minnesota Opera has done with its production, which opened Saturday at the Ordway Music Theater.

“La Bohème” is one of the most popular and often-staged operas in the world. (Opera buffs include it among the three ABCs, with “Aida” and “Carmen.”) It was successful almost from the start; the 1896 premiere in Turin, Italy, was led by Arturo Toscanini. It has been performed in the United States regularly, some say ceaselessly, for 120 years. The Met has presented “Bohème” almost annually since 1900 – to date, more than 1,300 performances.

This is Minnesota Opera’s sixth “Bohème.” (That number would be higher, except from 1963-80, the St. Paul Opera and the Met, which toured to Northrop each summer, handled all the traditional productions.) Sure, it’s a safe bet – Minnesota Opera knew that going in and gave it a longer-than-usual run of nine performances – but it’s also sublime. Musically, visually, and especially emotionally, this “Bohème” hits all the right notes.

Michael Yeargan’s sets and Marcus Dilliard’s lighting bring old Paris to life, from the small, shabby attic atelier shared by Rodolfo, the poet, and Marcello, the painter, to the bustling market street that doubles as the Café Momus, to a guarded gate at the city’s edge. In Act I, Dilliard slowly fills the attic with silvery moonlight as Rodolfo and the seamstress Mimi fall in love.

Due to the number of performances, this production has two conductors and two main casts. At the one we attended, the Music Director Michael Christie led the orchestra, which did a beautiful job with Puccini’s lush, luminous score, with its hummable melodies and memorable themes. The role of Rodolfo was sung by tenor Scott Quinn, Marcello by baritone Edward Parks, Mimi by soprano Nicole Cabell and flirty Musetta by Mary Evelyn Hangley. Their friends are Colline, a philosopher, sung in all performances by Benjamin Sieverding, and Shaunard, a musician, sung by Thomas Glass. Except for the market scene in Act II, when the stage fills with Christmas Eve celebrants and children, it’s a small cast of likable characters – even the unlikable ones, of which there are only two, a philandering landlord and an older, wealthy man. Both are bamboozled by the Bohemians.

Part of what makes “Bohème” so achingly sweet is there are no villains except for poverty. Everyone is cold, hungry, and struggling to be an artist, but there’s a lot of joking around and genial camaraderie. When Shaunard shows up with a meal, it’s a party. The Bohemians are true friends who celebrate each other’s successes, share each other’s sorrows, and jump in to help when it’s needed. Colline even sells his beloved coat for medicine money; his song to his coat, which comes very late in the opera, is a lovely surprise and made us wish we could hear more of Sieverding’s resonant baritone.

The keys to a great “Bohème” are Rodolfo and Mimi, and in Quinn and Cabell, Minnesota Opera has a perfect pair. They have great chemistry and convince you they’ve fallen head over heels at their first meeting. They nail the opera’s two defining arias – his “Che gelida manina” (“What a cold little hand!”), followed soon after by her “Si, Mi chiamano Mimi” (“Yes, they call me Mimi”) – then win us forever with the soaring duet “O soave fanciulla” (“Oh, beautiful maiden in the moonlight”). And that’s just Act I. Parks and Hangley aren’t quite as persuasive, but they don’t need to be; their love is of a different kind, less spiritual, doomed not by fate but character. Parks makes a terrific put-upon Marcello, Hangley a wickedly funny Musetta.

Stage director Octavio Cardenas brings out the best in everyone and keeps the stage in constant, fluid motion. Walter Mahoney’s costumes – and there are many, especially in the market scene – are just right. Clocking in at 2½ hours, including two intermissions, this production is everything you want a “Bohème” to be. Unless you’re made of stronger stuff than we are – and most of the audience who were seated around us – bring a tissue. 

Minnesota Opera’s “La Bohème” continues through May 21, ending with a Sunday matinee. FMI and tickets ($25-200). 

The picks

Tonight at the Trylon: The Marx Brothers: “Duck Soup” and “Monkey Business.” Two subversive Marx Brothers classics, newly restored. Sorry, this is not a double feature. “Duck Soup” at 7 p.m., “Monkey Business” at 8:30. FMI and tickets ($8 each film). It’s so much fun to see a movie at the Trylon, with its cozy ambience and art-house feel.

Photo by Ronald KnappPekka Kuusisto

Thursday at the Ordway Concert Hall: Happy Hour Concert with Pekka Kuusisto. A right-after-work happy hour with free beer, food trucks, and an hour of music in the Concert Hall. The SPCO first tried this in April 2016 and it worked so well that three Happy Hour concerts are already scheduled for the 2017-18 season. Thursday’s musicians include famed Finnish violinist and SPCO artistic partner Pekka Kuusisto, composer and multiinstrumentalist Gabriel Kahane and folk artist Sam Amidon. Happy Hour starts at 4 p.m., music at 6. FMI and tickets ($15; kids and students free).

Starts Thursday at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater: “Favorite.” What’s your favorite word? Flavor? Person, place or thing? Table Salt’s fourth annual storytelling show features popular Twin Cities storytellers and their tales about things they like. With Jim Robinson, Rachael Flanery, Julie Grover McArdle, Casey Nelson and Ellie Hino, Ryan North and emcee Brandon Boat. Music by Dennis Curley and Tina North. FMI and tickets ($12 advance or with a Finge Button, $15 door). Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Thursday and Friday at the Hopkins Center for the Arts: Pen Pals: James McBride and The Good Lord Bird Band. Friends of the Hennepin County Library wraps its 2016-17 season with a combination of literature and live jazz. McBride – the New York Times best-selling author of “The Color of Water,” “The Good Lord Bird” (winner of the 2013 National Book Award) and “Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown,” the authorized biography of the Godfather of Soul, also sings, plays saxophone and fronts a five-member band. They’ll join him on stage for this special Pen Pals program. Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 11:00 a.m. FMI and tickets ($40-50).

Courtesy of Steve ColemanSteve Coleman

Friday at the Walker: Steve Coleman and Natal Eclipse. New York-based jazz composer, saxophonist and bandleader Coleman has made 30 albums and won big prizes – MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships in 2014, a Doris Duke Performing Artist award in 2016. But a lot of people, including many jazz fans, have no idea who he is. Coleman’s latest album, “Synovial Joints,” is, in his words, “a four-part suite inspired by the joints that bind the musculoskeletal system.” He falls into the brainiac musician category, which includes people like Rudresh Mahanthappa (who once made an album based on number theory), Steve Lehman (who uses a French compositional technique called “spectral harmony”), Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn, The Bad Plus, and, come to think of it, an awful lot of jazz musicians. In the end, it’s about the music, and Coleman’s is fascinating. Parts of “Synovial Joints” sound very much like chamber music. He’ll be here with his eight-member ensemble of highly skilled improvisers including Matt Mitchell on piano, Greg Chudzik on bass, Roman Filiu on tenor saxophone, Rane Moore on clarinet, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Kristin Lee on violin on Jen Shyu on voice. This will be their Midwest debut. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($32/$25.60 Walker members). 

Saturday: 2017 Twin Cities Bungalow Club Home Tour. In neighborhoods across the Twin Cities, small houses are being leveled and replaced by big houses. That’s part of what makes this home tour so refreshing. Some of the stops are larger Arts and Crafts-style homes, but most are snug and cozy bungalows, with lots of wood and character. This year’s tour includes six homes. Pick up a map at the first house, located at 3431 39th Ave. S. in Minneapolis. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bungalow Club members free; non-members $5. 

Skyways or not, let’s celebrate that folks still love the magic of our downtown

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 8:00am

The ongoing debate over Minneapolis’ skyways has surfaced so many interesting points that we still can’t quite get our heads around our own opinions. But at one of downtown’s busiest restaurants, we at Hell's Kitchen have been fielding a boatload of questions about the skyways from our customers as we weave in and out of tables saying hello.

When pressed for “our opinion,” we tell them that we’re not smart enough to know what should or shouldn't happen; we’re just grateful that so many people somehow find their way into our underground lair no matter what the weather is. Some weekends, we take care of several thousand guests, which keeps 177 well-paid employees busy as heck. Last year alone, we spent $381,659 on employment taxes and sent $1,110,178 to Minnesota in collected sales taxes and a chunk of these taxes went to the City of Minneapolis to help the city pay for U.S. Bank Stadium.

Enough about money, though. Whether you consider thoughts about tearing down our skyways harebrained or brilliant, this debate has forced downtowners to think hard about what makes the heart of our city work or not work. One thing is for sure: While yes, there are empty storefronts, there are plenty of retailers and restaurants and bars and banks and branding agencies and software developers and all sorts of other businesses that are thriving downtown with or without skyways. Hell’s Kitchen, for example, is in the unique position of having had a view from both sides. We thrived when we were on 10th Street without any skyway access, and we’re thriving at our current location on 9th Street. Folks do find their way to whatever businesses they want to support; when we took an informal poll this past weekend, we discovered they came by foot, car, bus, light rail, Uber, bike, scooter, and motorcycle. One person came on his longboard and yes, several found us via skyways.

Exciting possibilities

So here’s our point: Every city, including ours, has tremendous room for improvement, but can we all stop for a second and see the sunny side of things? Even with Macy’s gone, we still feel fortunate to work right in the middle of one of the best cities in the whole dang country. The possibilities for filling Macy’s/Dayton’s as well as Barnes & Noble are ridiculously exciting not just for downtowners, but for all Minnesotans. While there will always be the “urban vs. suburban vs. outstate” tug and pull, let’s celebrate that folks from all over our state and region still love the magic of our downtown.

Some of our most loyal customers are teachers, firefighters, shop owners, restaurateurs and puckheads from Embarrass, Madelia, Moorhead, Rochester, Grand Forks, Hugo, Brainerd, Duluth, and all over, and the common thread is how much fun they’re having not just downstairs at our place, but downtown all over the place. There's a helluva lot of good will and a helluva lot of people from throughout our amazing part of the country who aren’t just rooting for Minneapolis to succeed and flourish; they see Minneapolis succeeding and flourishing right now.

All of us at HK take some good-natured ribbing for always being "the glass is half full" people — there's a song from Timbuk3 called "The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades" that pretty much nails our views about our future. Does our downtown face challenges? Of course, but let’s not forget that right now, even with solvable issues, we see throngs of people streaming in and out of the State and Orpheum. We enjoy one of the most amazing ballparks in the world. We're watching "Downtown East" crawling with new business, hotels, amazing restaurants, the Guthrie, the new stadium, the breathtaking riverfront, and buildings full of people — young and old — happy as clams to be living downtown.

Sports, music, five-star restaurants ...

We see our Convention Center shattering its previous years with yet another record number of convention visitors. Along with thousands of others, we happily crowded into First Ave to share Prince memories last week. The most amazing grouping of five-star restaurants make their home in the North Loop, and looking into the near future, we see a mass of happy X Games, Super Bowl and NCAA hoops visitors just itching to taste all the greatness our downtown currently offers.

So celebrate the fact that even with challenges, we’re doing better than many downtowns, and as Paul Wellstone used to say, “We all do better when we all do better.” Millions of visitors aren’t scared of downtown and neither are we. While we honestly don’t know whether everyone would be better off without our skyways, we absolutely couldn't be more optimistic about today, tomorrow, and well into the future of downtown Minneapolis.

Cynthia Gerdes, Steve Meyer and Pat Forciea are the owners of Hell's Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis.


If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

Kellogg to lay off 200 in St. Paul

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 5:55am
Brian Lambert

200 workers. Matt Sepic of MPR reports, “The Kellogg food company is closing its St. Paul area distribution center. The move will put more than 200 employees out of work this summer. In a letter to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Kellogg's said it plans to permanently cut 216 jobs at its facility in Vadnais Heights. The company says it'll eliminate the positions in July and August. Some of the workers are members of the Teamsters union.”

Were you hacked last week? BBC News says, “A phishing email that targeted Gmail users is estimated to have cost the state of Minnesota $90,000 (£69,400). About 2,500 state employees received the email, according to the state chief information security officer. Around the world, people have reported getting multiple copies of the email, while others have received the message from trusted organizations. One million Gmail users, which Google says is ‘fewer than 0.1%,’ were affected. The cost to the Minnesota state government was mainly the result of employees dealing with the attack rather than carrying out their normal jobs, said state chief information security officer Christopher Buse.” The upside was hearing from people I hadn’t heard from in years telling me I had been hacked.

The Times likes Minnesota's satanic temple story. Says Christopher Mele in the New York Times, “The Veterans Memorial Park in Belle Plaine, Minn., includes a walkway with rows of American flags on either side, a UH-1 Huey helicopter and a granite monument with the engraved names of residents who died in the Indian War of 1862, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.Coming soon to this one-acre park will be an unlikely monument from an even more unlikely source: a black steel cube with a golden inverted pentagram on each side and an empty soldier’s helmet on the top, sponsored by the Satanic Temple. It will be the first monument sponsored by the temple to be erected on public grounds, the group said.”

Legislative work desks for sale … lightly used. For KARE-TV Gordon Severson reports, “Minnesotans are getting a chance to purchase a piece of the state Senate. More specifically, they can buy a piece of furniture. ‘Vintage is hot right now,’ Greg Christian says. ‘The 70's and 80's. Everybody likes those years. Those were fun times.’ The Minnesota Senate is auctioning off some extra furniture used by senators and staff over the past few decades. The items up for sale include desks, chairs, bookcases, tables and other pieces from the State Capitol and State Office Building.”

Less is better. MPR’s Dan Kraker reports, “After a 2011 study by the Minnesota Department of Health showed that 10 percent of newborns tested along the North Shore had concerning levels of mercury in their blood, public health officials faced a conundrum. Too much mercury can cause lasting problems with understanding and learning. So how could they reduce the levels of mercury in women of child-bearing age, without sacrificing the health benefits of eating fish — especially in communities in northeast Minnesota with a deep cultural connection to fishing?”

Believe it when you see it. Another MPR story from up north says, “Residents and officials eager for a new siding plant to open in northeast Minnesota are going to have to wait a bit longer. Louisiana Pacific — which last year announced the purchase of a former mill in Cook, Minn., to expand its thriving engineered wood siding business — now says it will first convert a mill the company operates in British Columbia to make siding. In a conference call with analysts, LP's Chief Operating Officer Brad Southern said it makes sense to develop the Canadian site first because of its proximity to the company's West Coast customer base, and because the mill is already staffed and operating. But that doesn't mean a northern Minnesota plant is off the table. The Cook location and another site in Quebec ‘are likely options for future siding expansion,’ said Southern. He added the company is ‘continuing our planning process for both locations with a focus on Cook.’" Translation: We’ll get back to you.

Fake reefer madness. In the PiPress, Mara Gottfried writes, “Over and over again, St. Paul paramedics and EMTs have responded recently to people having bad reactions after apparently smoking synthetic marijuana. Some have been unconscious, some vomiting and others in a catatonic state. The medical calls keeping the fire department busy are happening in the downtown area where many homeless people get services.”

Cutlery knives! Forum News Service’s Youssef Rddad has this: “A former principal of East Ridge High School in Woodbury has pleaded guilty to felony theft for misusing school funds to make personal purchases. Aaron Harper, 41, abruptly resigned in 2014 when allegations surfaced that he had inappropriately spent thousands of school district dollars for unapproved goods and services. … The criminal complaint details thousands of dollars worth of unauthorized purchases Harper made over the course of three years. They including weight loss drinks, Sam’s Club memberships, Menards power tools, electronics, funeral flowers, softball equipment and $7,900 in cutlery knives.”

Trouble in Forest Lake. In the PiPress, Mary Divine writes about the big controversy: “The Forest Lake City Council on Monday night voted to disband its police force and contract with Washington County for law enforcement services. The 3-2 vote followed weeks of heated community protests and petitions opposing the proposal … . Hundreds of people again packed the Forest Lake Community Center for the meeting, which was a continuation of a meeting last week that lasted five hours. Residents began yelling and booing as soon as the vote was taken”

Finally, this in from The Florida of the Midwest. According to an AP story, “Authorities say a 37-year-old Milwaukee woman arrested on suspicion of her third DUI had an 8-year-old boy on her lap steering the car. A Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputy saw the car entering an on-ramp on Thursday afternoon with a child seated on the driver’s lap and steering the car. The deputy stopped the car and saw that the boy was crying. He told the deputy that he did not want to go jail. The sheriff’s office says the driver refused to cooperate with the deputy until the deputy’s supervisor arrived. Authorities say the woman was visibly impaired and failed field sobriety tests.”

Objecting to Rep. Paulsen being described as 'moderate'

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 2:03pm

In reference to your May 3 article, "Two Minnesota U.S. House seats will start next campaign as toss-ups, says Inside Elections"

As a newly awakened moderate voter, I take issue with the following statements in this article:

  • “… moderate pro-business Republicans like … Erik Paulsen” and
  • “Paulsen is also wary about casting votes that might become controversial and is among the few Republicans at the moment who hasn't said how he will vote on the current version of Trumpcare.”

When I was not paying attention, I might have fallen for the "moderate" label, but I am paying attention now. The fact that Paulsen, like the other Republicans in swing seats, won’t take a stand on controversial issues like the AHCA until the very last minute suggests that he is less worried about the issue and more worried about 2018. I would submit he should be because the GOP is, mistakenly, attributing voices of opposition as being DFL.

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Support for higher education is good for business

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 2:00pm

There has been much made about baby boom retirements and an impending shortage of workers. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is talking about it, as is the state demographer, among others.

Tim Wise

At Ziegler CAT, we share these concerns, and we are taking proactive action. Our strategy has been to invest in strong partnerships with many colleges from within the Minnesota State system, including Dakota County Technical College, Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Canby, Alexandria Community and Technical College, and Hibbing Community College.

But the impending shortage of workers is a statewide concern – one that warrants a statewide response. For this reason I encourage our state leaders to join us and other businesses in our investment in the colleges and universities of Minnesota State – and this state’s future workforce and economic vitality – by supporting the Minnesota State budget request that is currently before the legislature.


Our strategic investment in our partner colleges has taken many forms. In recent years, we have invested cash and in-kind contributions worth about $500,000. We provide training, tools, scholarships, internship opportunities, and other resources to the programs we partner with. We are involved with programs like Skills USA that offer extracurricular opportunities for students to hone their skills. We have donated equipment including skid steer loaders, engines, test equipment and many other components. We provide free access to our technical training content to both instructors and students. And, we have built relationships that are foundational to our success with skilled, industry-savvy instructors who continually seek ways to improve their programs.

Starting with a strong foundation

These strategic partnerships have paid off for us by developing the talent we need to do the job right. When students learn the proper techniques at our partner colleges and understand the fundamentals, their employment with us starts off with a foundation that will help us meet the needs of our customers. Students who join Ziegler CAT from our partner colleges have learned the right way to do the job, and they take pride in doing the job correctly. In all, we currently employ about 500 graduates from these schools in a variety of key roles within the organization including service department technicians, supervisors, branch managers, parts managers, technical communicators and trainers, customer support representatives, and many more.

But more important than the value our partner colleges provide to our company is the value they provide to our customers. Our philosophy is, “If the customer is successful, then Ziegler will be successful,” and our customers use the Caterpillar products we sell to build Minnesota’s roads, sewer, and water systems. They are used in mining, site development, power generation, home building, and agriculture, just to name a few. By helping our customers to be successful, Minnesota State is helping to make all of these critical sectors of Minnesota’s economy more successful.

Businesses deeply rely on Minnesota State

My hope is that our elected officials in St. Paul understand just how deeply businesses rely on the colleges and universities of Minnesota State to develop the talent we need to compete and thrive. Minnesota State has a budget request before the governor and the legislature, and among all the priorities our legislators are faced with, I believe that Minnesota State should be very close to the top.

Ziegler CAT’s strategic partnership investment with the colleges of Minnesota State is significant, but it is one we are willing to make because it helps us, our employees, and our customers to be successful. For the same reason, legislators should invest in the colleges and universities of Minnesota State to ensure students continue to have access to high quality, affordable education and the state continues to have the talent it needs in order to thrive. 

Tim Wise is a vice president of Ziegler CAT, Minnesota’s dealer of Caterpillar machines and engines, and a recent member of the Dakota County Technical College Foundation Board.


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Minnesota measles outbreak driven by anti-vaccine activists

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 12:11pm
MinnPost staff

You think they’re just lovable kooks and then something like this happens. Vox’s Julia Belluz reports: “Anti-vaccine groups have helped fuel Minnesota’s largest outbreak of measles in nearly 30 years, with 44 confirmed cases since the outbreak was identified in April. … Most of the cases are occurring among unvaccinated Somali-American children in Minneapolis, whose parents have been the targets of anti-vaccine propagandists, according to the state health department.”

Related: “Allina limits hospital, clinic visitors due to measles outbreak” [Star Tribune]

Minnesotans on the move. The Star Tribune reports: “Having filled a Supreme Court vacancy, President Donald Trump is turning his attention to the more than 120 openings on the lower federal courts. On Monday, he will announce a slate of 10 nominees to those courts, a senior White House official said, the first in what could be near monthly waves of nominations. … The candidates to be announced Monday include Justice David R. Stras, a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and law professor at the University of Minnesota, who now serves on the Minnesota Supreme Court. He will be nominated to the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis.”

Clearly, the best thing will be to let politicians decide what to build on the site. The Pioneer Press’ Frederick Melo reports: “Former St. Paul City Council member Pat Harris has criticized core elements of the city’s plans for the land once occupied by the Ford manufacturing plant in Highland Park, such as the height and density of permitted structures. … Former council member Melvin Carter has defended the same zoning vision. … It’s a key difference between the two, and it underscores the contrasts in their campaigns for the mayor’s seat.”

FYI. WCCO reports: “Starting Monday, all tobacco use is now banned from parks in Minneapolis. That includes e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. … The new policy means the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MSRB) will join 30 other metro park systems in becoming completely tobacco free.”

In other news…

It’s not exactly a shortlist, but 4 Minnesota politicians are on it: “The 43 people who might run against Trump in 2020” [The Hill]

Seems like both sides got what they came for: “Trump rally overshadowed by standoff outside MN Capitol” [Pioneer Press]

Did your school make the list? “U.S. high school rankings by state — most challenging schools” [Washington Post]

This kind of consistency inspires confidence in the brand: “New owner of Gander Mountain plans to keep at least 70 stores open, despite what company’s website says” [Pioneer Press]

Spoiler: It’s Independence. “Grass Fire in Swamp Burns 50-Plus Acres in West Metro City” [KSTP]

Wow, end of an era: “Mpls. staple Treehouse Records to close, ending a 44-year tradition” [Star Tribune]

Candidates ask: How much is the Minneapolis DFL doing for people of color?

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 10:45am
Kristoffer Tigue

Several candidates vying for public office in Minneapolis lambasted the city’s current leadership and the Democratic Party at a rally last week, criticizing both for not doing enough to address the state’s persistent racial disparities and calling for a “massive, demonstrable paradigm shift in the city.”

The rally, organized at the City Hall rotunda by mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds and attended by dozens of her supporters, aimed to act as an alternative State of the City address, one focused on Minneapolis’ communities of color. Levy-Pounds said she believed such an address was needed after witnessing what she called nearly four years of dysfunction and a “government not living up to its responsibilities.”

Besides Levy-Pounds, speakers included City Council hopefuls Raeisha Williams, Tiffini Flynn-Forslund and Samantha Pree-Stinson, all of whom chastised the city for the disunity within its leadership, and for inadequately addressing issues that most affect its communities of color: affordable housing, raising the minimum wage, closing the state’s achievement gap and pushing for stronger police reforms.

“The ongoing miscommunication and lack of strong leadership, which was exposed by the report from the Department of Justice recently, has been a hallmark of this current administration,” Levy-Pounds told the crowd, “especially when dealing with issues that impact communities of color.”

Fourth precinct fallout

The city’s handling of the occupation of the Fourth Precinct after the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark was emblematic of deeper shortcomings within city leadership, said Levy-Pounds. “[The occupation] should have been a signal to the current mayor, police chief and City Council members that our community is fed up with business-as-usual politics,” she said.

Instead, Levy-Pounds said, after the encampment was disbanded, Mayor Hodges and Council Member Blong Yang attempted to allocate more than $600,000 to help fortify the Fourth Precinct police department — a move that received strong pushback from activists, who said more funding for the status quo wasn’t the answer.

The fallout from Clark’s death has led to stronger pushes for police reform and helped to unify several civil rights groups last year in calling for more state funding to address Minnesota’s racial disparities.

But Clark’s death also acted as a catalyst for many people of color getting more involved in city politics. It's one of the reasons Raeisha Williams decided to run this year for the city’s Ward 5 spot — and why she wants to see the city’s current leadership ousted. “I’m happy to see more candidates of color getting out here, but what I really want to know is your track record,” she said at Thursday’s rally. “Were you out there fighting for us when we were out there fighting, or is it popular to do so now?”

Bucking the DFL

Like Levy-Pounds, the City Council challengers also blasted the DFL Party on Thursday for using people of color as “tokens” to push the party’s favorability among voters, while not doing enough for their communities.

“That’s why Raeisha and I bucked the DFL system, because we are tired of business as usual,” Levy-Pounds said, referring to her decision not to vie for the party's endorsement. “We are not going to seek the endorsement from a party that does not treat people of color the way they deserve to be treated.”

MinnPost photo by Kristoffer TigueSamantha Pree-Stinson, right, Green Party candidate for Ward 3, with mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds, left, speaking at the rally.

Green Party candidate Samantha Pree-Stinson, who’s vying for the city’s Ward 3 council seat, agreed, saying she’d like to see candidates of color get elected into public office in the city without relying on the DFL to do so.

Most of the people running for mayor and the council are seeking the party endorsement, however. Last month, wards in north Minneapolis and downtown saw strong turnout among those supporting candidates hoping to secure the DFL endorsement over incumbent council members.

Among them is Tiffini Flynn-Forslund, who’s seeking DFL endorsement in Ward 6, where there’s a contentious fight for the seat among herself and two other candidates, incumbent Abdi Warsame and challenger Mohamud Noor. Flynn-Forslund said though she’s seeking the endorsement, she can understand why candidates like Levy-Pounds don’t care to based on her own experience. “Never have I felt so wiped out from my own party,” she said.

Trump’s tax plan seeks to bring back trillions in corporate profits held abroad. Can he succeed where many others have failed?

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 9:58am
Sam Brodey

What if there were a magic source of free money, sitting just outside the borders of the United States — across the Caribbean in the Cayman Islands, perhaps — just waiting for a sharp politician to come along and enact the right policy to haul those trillions of dollars back to the U.S.?

This, in short, is often how repatriation — or the return of corporate foreign cash to be taxed in the U.S. — is sold to the public: a source of revenue and economic stimulus that, under the right circumstances, can boost desirable but hard-to-fund things like transportation.

But the appeal of the repatriation idea is deceiving. Devising a sound way to bring back the profits that U.S. corporations have filed to foreign subsidiaries — which currently totals around $2.5 trillion — is something that has eluded politicians of both parties for decades.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama advanced measures of their own; Bush implemented his idea, a temporary tax holiday, but it is remembered as a resounding dud.

Donald Trump is the latest president to take a crack at it: with his party in control of the White House and Congress, he is in a position to enact sweeping tax reform, including changes to how and where U.S. companies are taxed, and what to do with all that cash that’s overseas.

Trump is proposing a one-time tax on that overseas cash — at a rate yet to be officially determined, but reports suggest 10 percent — as part of his tax package, which also includes reworking the tax code to only tax domestic revenue.

Perhaps Republicans and Democrats could agree on a rate at which to tax this corporate money. But where Trump’s plan is vague — and where there is partisan disagreement — is how to eliminate the incentive for companies to keep storing profits overseas in the future.

Can America’s new dealmaker-in-chief finally get the job done? And if he does, what will it mean for the federal bottom line — and for Minnesota?

Trillions overseas

To understand how companies might be enticed to bring their money back to the U.S., it helps to understand why they’re holding the money abroad in the first place. Estimates vary, but it’s accepted that U.S. companies have about $2.5 trillion dollars parked overseas. The explanation for why that is lies in the particular qualities of the U.S. tax code.

For one, the statutory U.S. corporate income tax is 35 percent, the highest among the developed economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. U.S. companies pay an average of 27 percent tax after credits and deductions, which is below the OECD average, but still far too high in the eyes of many politicians, particularly Republicans.

The structure of the tax code, however, gives companies a way to avoid the U.S. corporate tax rate. Unlike Australia, the United Kingdom, and Japan, the U.S. taxes corporate income no matter where in the world it’s earned. But the U.S. does not tax foreign income as it’s earned — it’s only subject to taxation once that income is returned home to the company, typically as a dividend.

That means that U.S. companies can book earnings through foreign subsidiaries and let the money sit there for years without repatriating it to the parent company on American soil. Tax policy experts, like Harry Stein at the liberal Center for American Progress, also point out that this money can be put to use in the U.S. even if it’s technically offshore for the purposes of tax law.

“The money is not stuffed under mattresses in the Cayman Islands even if it’s held by Cayman entities for tax purposes,” Stein explained in an interview. “The money is offshore for tax purposes, but it is often not offshore in a real economic sense.” Corporations can use “offshore” money through their subsidiaries, he says, to do things like buy Treasury bonds or even stock in other companies.

Even so, the Citizens for Tax Fairness advocacy group estimates that, in this way, U.S.-based corporations are currently avoiding an IRS bill to the tune of $700 billion.

V.V. Chari, a tax policy expert at the University of Minnesota, says the system creates an incentive for tax deferral that works like an individual retirement account. “With IRAs, you don’t pay tax with the income that’s in the IRA plan as it’s generated,” he explains. “You only tax it when you withdraw it. Especially if you plan to withdraw the money a number of years later, it provides a strong incentive to defer taxes.

“Eventually you pay taxes at the U.S. rate, but meanwhile, it accumulates at a lower tax rate, the rate that the foreign country charges.”

Naturally, U.S. companies look to place their foreign profits in jurisdictions with low tax rates, or so-called “tax havens.”

The Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy group, published a report in 2016 about tax havens. It identifies about 50 jurisdictions as tax havens, from Bermuda and the Cayman Islands — places virtually synonymous with balance sheet trickery — to countries like Ireland and Singapore, which have pursued very low tax rates to attract business.

The PIRG report found that nearly three quarters of Fortune 500 companies operate subsidiaries in tax havens, with 14 Minnesota-based companies appearing this list. 3M led the way among them, with $12 billion stored in 14 subsidiaries. It is followed by St. Jude Medical with $5 billion in 21 subsidiaries, and General Mills with $2 billion in 52 subsidiaries.

Best Buy, Target, UnitedHealth Group, and Ecolab also had hundreds of millions of dollars overseas, per the report.

Overall, U.S. tech companies hold the most overseas cash. Apple holds about $180 billion outside American borders, General Electric holds $119 billion, and Microsoft holds $108 billion, according to a report from Oxfam.

Recouping tax revenue

This corporate practice, perfected over decades, has been a significant drag on U.S. government coffers. The Congressional Research Service reported in 2013 that untaxed offshore money costs the federal government anywhere from $30 billion to $90 billion annually.

It also costs state governments significant revenue, as corporations skip out on state corporate taxes, too. The Public Research Interest Group estimates that states lose, in total, about $20 billion annually.

Some states have passed, or considered, legislation to tax overseas money. Montana, the first state to do so, recovered $7 million in state corporate tax in 2010, reports Bloomberg.

Were Minnesota to pursue a similar path, the windfall might be more limited. The Minnesota Department of Revenue says it treats repatriated earnings as corporate dividends, which are eligible for the Minnesota Dividend Received Deduction. This could exempt 80 percent of repatriated earnings from taxable income. (Minnesota has a 9.84 percent corporate income tax.)

For a long time, politicians in both parties have loudly taken issue with companies keeping their money offshore. There is, of course, the basic argument that they are skipping out on their obligations to Uncle Sam; Democrats in particular argue that U.S. corporations benefit from taxpayer dollars while failing to contribute to the system themselves.

Returning that money to be taxed, the argument goes, would stanch the flow of government red ink by increasing revenue, and could be a boost to funding important programs. Politicians often hold up infrastructure projects — which are notoriously difficult to secure agreement on how to fund — as the kind of thing that could benefit from repatriating offshore cash.

Others see broader effects: a popular argument from politicians is that stashing profits overseas stifles job growth and innovation in the U.S., and that returning this money stateside would be a positive for American workers.

The one-page Trump plan

How would Trump tackle this problem? The White House’s one-page memo, distributed to reporters to explain the president’s tax plan, has very little detail on what exactly he’d do regarding offshore cash.

It simply features two bullet points: “territorial tax system to level the playing field for American companies,” and “one-time tax on trillions of dollars held overseas.” (No specific figure for a rate is suggested, though reports have said it will be 10 percent, which is the rate Trump proposed during the campaign.)

That first bullet point is important: it’d change the U.S. corporate tax code to make it like those of Japan or the U.K, which just tax domestic revenue. The second part is what gives tax experts pause, as a “one-time tax” can mean a few different things.

A one-time tax could be mandatory or, as it has been in the past, voluntary. During his presidency, George W. Bush implemented a so-called “repatriation holiday,” in which corporations were invited to repatriate offshore money at a 5.25 percent rate over two years.

Backers claimed the holiday would stimulate job growth, but a U.S. Senate study from 2011 found it did not. Corporations brought back over $300 billion, and avoided $3.3 billion in taxes; instead of spurring hiring and domestic investment, the study discovered that major companies simply bought back stock and increased executive pay.

The idea of the repatriation holiday has had some legs, however. In 2015, Sen. Rand Paul and former Sen. Barbara Boxer proposed a five-year repatriation holiday to boost the Highway Trust Fund, a proposal that was scored to cost the government over $100 billion.

Experts say that though Trump’s plan is vague — “this proposal is not a tax proposal,” the U of M’s Chari says — they agree it’s likely Trump is proposing a mandatory, not voluntary, tax on all offshore money as the U.S. transitions into a different tax system that only targets domestic revenue.

This is sometimes called a transition tax — a one-time levy on past profits, a “toll charge” that “would clean the slate of existing tax liabilities,” says a report from the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities.

What would happen?

If the 10 percent plan moved forward, companies with significant offshore holdings would get a major discount on their tax liability.

3M, for example, would owe $1.2 billion in taxes, as opposed to $4.2 billion at the statutory corporate rate. (It’s also possible that companies could get additional deductions from foreign tax obligations.) It is not clear how much 3M, which is headquartered in Maplewood, would owe in taxes to the state of Minnesota, since it does business in many states.

GOP Rep. Jason Lewis, who sits on the Budget Committee that plays a role in tax policy, said in a statement to MinnPost that he would “support looking at a transition tax in the context of wider reform of our tax code, which we need to do in order to both repatriate overseas profits and make life easier for hardworking Minnesotans.”

Progressives like Rep. Keith Ellison also want to bring those profits back, but bristle at the implications of passing a measure like the one Trump has advanced. “You’re like, I don’t want to pay unless you give me a giant discount other people don’t get? It bugs me and I don’t want to be a part of it,” he told MinnPost. “I’ll never vote for it.”

Experts anticipate that, as with Bush’s tax holiday, workers would see little benefit from the official return of this cash to American soil. “You should not expect that would trigger a lot of business investment,” says Alan Viard, who studies tax policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Maybe a little,” he adds.

“Informed analysis suggests you should be skeptical of any claim this will lead corporations to end up hiring a lot of American workers and paying them well,” Chari says. As it is, he explains, big companies can essentially borrow against their offshore holdings if they want to make big domestic investments, without returning a single dollar stateside in the short run.

Even a 10 percent rate, though, would raise about $250 billion in revenue for the federal government. (House Republicans have aimed for something closer to eight percent, while Barack Obama failed in his push for a 14 percent rate.)

So, even though it likely would be spread out over some years, repatriation still promises a significant amount of revenue — about a quarter of the federal government’s annual budget. (Experts say this could appear fiscally responsible in the short term but potentially add to deficits in the long term, if paired with major corporate tax reductions.)

There’s popular support for earmarking that quarter of a trillion, or whatever the sum may be, for transportation funding — avoiding a potentially messy fight over raising the gas tax, a politically unpopular move.

“It is like a silver bullet to get out of a tough choice,” Viard says, adding, “there’s no great harm if they do it that way.” For his part, Ellison described the promise of infrastructure investment as the “bait covering up the hook” of corporate tax reform.

The big question mark with repatriation, though, is how it’ll fit into Trump’s broader tax reform plans. A one-time tax solves one problem; how to eliminate the incentive for companies to shift profits abroad is an entirely different one.

For Republicans, the answer is clear: reduce statutory U.S. corporate tax rates, and more money stays here. To that end, Trump has proposed reducing that rate from 35 percent to 15 percent.

For Democrats, many of whom are opposed to such sharp reductions in the corporate tax rate, things are more complicated. Sen. Al Franken told MinnPost he simply doesn’t want to pass any policy that incentivizes future stashing of money overseas.

Loophole-closing is a proposed answer to that: CAP’s Stein says storing money offshore can be made more difficult by cracking down on common methods to shift profits to tax havens, what he calls the “low-hanging fruit.”

With Republicans in control of D.C.’s levers of power, is an end in sight to one of Washington’s most enduring policy problems? Don’t hold your breath, says AEI’s Viard. He gives three possibilities: one is that Congress passes a tax package next year that includes the big changes Trump has talked about.

The second is a bill that doesn't significantly alter the rules. The third? “Nothing happens. We don’t get a tax bill,” he says. “It’s starting to seem more likely than it used to be.”

Did Minneapolis architect Leroy Sunderland Buffington invent the skyscraper?

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 9:50am
Molly Huber Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical SocietyCabinet photograph of Leroy Buffington, c.1895.
Photographer: George W. Floyd.

Sometimes known as the Father of the Skyscraper, Leroy Sunderland Buffington was a prolific architect who had a lasting impact on the built environment of Minneapolis. In the 1880s, Buffington was nationally known. His architectural office employed more than thirty draftsmen, making it the largest in the region.

Buffington was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 22, 1847, and completed his schooling in that city, graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 1869. He trained to be a civil and mechanical engineer but found his true love was architecture. Buffington joined the architectural firm of Hannaford and Anderson, and then relocated to St. Paul in 1871 in search of greater opportunity. He spent a few years in St. Paul in partnership with local established architect Abraham Radcliffe, before moving to Minneapolis in 1874 to establish his own firm.

Buffington found quick success in Minneapolis and began to take on important commissions there, such as the Boston Block at Third Street and Nicollet Avenue, where he located his offices. Buffington was experimenting with iron and masonry construction by the late 1870s, which would prove significant in the next decade.


The 1880s were extremely productive for Buffington. One of his major projects during these years was the Pillsbury A Mill, which was the first architect-designed mill. He also was the architect for the West Hotel, the second capitol building in St. Paul, and many buildings on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, including the Coliseum, Pillsbury Hall, and the Mechanic Arts Building, now known as Eddy Hall.

In 1880, Buffington was appointed the official architect for the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company, later the Great Northern. He had many notable private clients as well, such as Charles A. Pillsbury, George H. Christian, James J. Hill, W. W. Eastman, Cyrus Northrop, C.M. LoringArchbishop John IrelandThomas LowryWilliam R. Merriam, and Knute Nelson. He also had numerous commissions outside of Minnesota as far west as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Buffington's biggest, and most controversial, achievement of the 1880s was his "cloudscraper," for which he received US and international patents in May 1888. He developed a detailed, fully realized plan for iron- or steel-skeleton construction used in conjunction with masonry to achieve building heights never before possible. These buildings are now known as skyscrapers.

Buffington published his ideas in respected architectural journals and was immediately mocked for them. However, buildings constructed using similar plans began rising in cities all over the United States. Buffington received no credit for these structures, so he formed the Buffington Iron Building Company and brought suit against many of the builders for patent infringement. The cases dragged on so long in court, however, that the patent rights expired. Buffington was then further mocked for spending $30,000 without winning a case in defense of his design.

Respected architectural scholars argued publicly and passionately over Buffington's claim to the skyscraper idea, but eventually the controversy died down without a clear resolution.

Buffington continued to work as an architect in Minneapolis into the twentieth century. After his wife's death, he lived with his daughter at 35th Street and Aldrich Avenue South. On February 16, 1931, he died in his sleep in Minneapolis, largely forgotten by the world beyond the Twin Cities, despite his earlier national fame.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

Fletcher wins DFL endorsement in race to replace Jacob Frey on Minneapolis City Council

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 9:48am
Peter Callaghan

In another year, Cordelia Pierson would be the kind of candidate Minneapolis DFLers might be thrilled to recruit.

After all, Pierson, an environmental attorney and current director of the Minnesota Environmental Fund, founded the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership and has been active in her neighborhood association.

But in the race to replace Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey in Ward 3, Pierson will not go before the ward’s voters this fall. That’s because delegates to the ward's endorsing convention on Saturday made it clear they preferred Steve Fletcher for the job.

After being told that the vote count favored Fletcher — either just under or just over the 60 percent needed to secure the endorsement (the exact number is unclear since the vote was never announced) — Pierson withdrew from the contest and dropped her campaign. 

“I decided to withdraw because I wanted us all to be unified behind out next City Council member,” Pierson told delegates who had gathered in the auditorium at DeLaSalle High School. “But there’s something I want in return. I want each of you to show the leadership you promised to make this community a better place. May you give some of your time because Steve can’t do it alone.”

With that, the convention suspended the rules and gave the DFL endorsement to Fletcher, a community and labor organizer who clearly had the best-organized campaign. The founding executive director of Neighbors Organizing for Change, Fletcher counted support among labor and community activists that he has worked with in the past. His endorsements include the SEIU, UNITE-HERE, and the Teamsters as well as other union organizations. He’d also been endorsed by Our Revolution, the political organization that emerged from the Bernie Sanders campaign; and Stonewall DFL, the party’s LGBT caucus.

There was little animosity between the backers of Pierson and Fletcher, and a question-and-answer session during the convention showed little differences between the candidates. Both took positions that would endear them to the DFL rank-and-file: yes on $15 minimum wage; yes for more affordable housing; yes for new ways of policing that stress community and de-escalation; yes for calming the turbulence in City Hall.

There was one difference, however, that Pierson alluded to while answering a question about the minimum wage, though it wasn’t picked up by many of those listening. Pierson said she wanted to make sure the minimum wage didn’t hurt anyone or cause anyone’s wages to go down. The applause for her answer was equal to that when Fletcher stated his supporter for One Fair Wage, the agenda that supports a single wage policy for the city with no carve-outs for tips.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanWard 3 council candidate Steve Fletcher chatting with convention attendees prior to voting.

Afterward, Pierson said she was referring to restaurant workers and small business people and was open — though not committed yet — to ideas about making the wage ordinance work for tipped workers.

During the Q&A session with the candidates, Fletcher noted the importance of the DFL arriving at a single candidate since there will be a contest in November regardless of the party’s actions. That’s because two additional candidates are running under other banners: Ginger Jentzen as a Socialist Alternative candidate and Samantha Lee Pree-Stinson as a Green Party member. While council seats are technically nonpartisan, city election law allows candidates to be placed on the ballot with up to three words of description.

“How do we make sure we’re challenging ourselves to turn out more DFLers than we’ve ever turned out, to bring people over to real grassroots organizing and DFL values?” Fletcher said. He also said delegates needed to look for a candidate who “knows how to finish.”

Ward 3 has been center stage for Minneapolis economic boom over the last several years. Covering parts of downtown, North Loop, Nicollet Island, St. Anthony Main, Dinkytown and Marcy-Holmes, the ward is where the bulk of the new commercial and multifamily housing construction has occurred in the city.

Still, the conversation and the statements by the candidates Saturday sounded similar to campaigns in other wards. There were no NIMBYs in evidence. There was little talk about the impacts of all that construction and density. Instead, the issues of inequity, police abuse and affordable housing drove the debate.

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanWard 3 council candidate Cordelia Pierson, center, chatting with convention attendees.

Fletcher at one point suggested that any developer seeking a variance would need to show how they were helping add affordable housing in the city. He later criticized Mayor Betsy Hodges and unnamed council members for not joining in the occupation at the 4th Precinct after the shooting death of Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis police officer. 

Pierson’s withdrawal was expected after both candidates answered the first question posed — would they drop out if the other was endorsed? — in the affirmative.

How close she got to blocking Fletcher from the endorsement wasn’t announced, however. A Fletcher supporter said he’d gotten the 160 votes needed to reach the 60 percent threshold needed, but a Pierson backer said Fletcher had fallen a few votes short. She thought he would win on subsequent ballots and chose not to put the convention through additional ballots.

Correction: The story originally stated that Jacob Frey did not attend protests at the 4th Precinct. Frey says he did attend.

Low-level workers' higher levels of stress continue after retirement, study finds

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 8:45am
Susan Perry

Whether or not your stress levels lessen after retirement is likely to depend on where your pre-retirement job falls on the occupational ladder, according to a British study published online last Friday in the Journals of Gerontology Series B.

People who have low-level, low-status jobs are more likely to experience greater stress around retirement than their co-workers in higher-level positions, the study reports.

The study also found that stress levels tend not to drop for the low-level workers after retirement.

“We wanted to examine the common perception that people at the top of the occupational hierarchy are the most stressed. We actually found the reverse,” said Tarani Chandola, the study’s lead author and a medical sociologist at the University of Manchester, in an interview with ResearchGate News. “Stress, at least in terms of biological stress responses, is higher the lower down the occupational hierarchy you go. What’s more, retirement did not reduce these differences in stress levels, but actually increased them. Retirement was associated with lower stress levels, but only for people at the top of the occupational ladder.”

As Chandola and his co-authors write in their study, their findings “may partly explain the pattern of widening social inequalities in health in early old age.”

Study details

For the study, the researchers analyzed cortisol samples collected before and after retirement from 1,143 participants in the Whitehall II civil servants study, which has been following a large group of London-based British civil servants (two-thirds men, one third women) since 1985 to observe how social position affects health.

The hormone cortisol regulates many processes throughout the body, including how the body responds to stress. Levels of the hormone peak about 30 minutes after awakening in the morning and then gradually decline throughout the day, reaching their lowest levels around bedtime. Stress disrupts that pattern. In particular, it flattens the slope of the daily decline. Flatter slopes are thus considered a key biomarker for stress — and have been associated with an increased risk of several chronic health problems, including diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Cortisol levels were measured in the current study through saliva samples taken from the participants at five points during a typical working day (when their average age was 60) and then during a typical day three to seven years later — after they had retired.

The researchers then looked to see what the daily cortisol slope was, on average, on both of those testing days for the civil servants in three different employment grades: high, middle and low.

Key findings

The analysis revealed that before retirement the civil servants employed in the lowest-status jobs had, on average, the highest levels of stress as indicated by flatter daily cortisol slopes. That finding contradicts the commonly held idea that people with higher-level jobs are under the greatest stress.

The analysis also found — again, contrary to common perception — that retirement did not alter that difference in stress levels. Although retirement was found to be associated overall with steeper (improved) cortisol slopes, a closer look at the data found that those in the low-status jobs tended not to experience that benefit.

Retirement appeared to increase, not narrow, the gap in biological stress levels between the highest- and lowest-level civil servants.

“The fact that [low-level workers’] stress levels did not improve much, at least not as much as those in the top jobs, surprised us,” said Chandola. “This suggests that the poor working conditions are not the only driver of the increased stress levels for those at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy. Rather, other factors such as financial security and adequate pension arrangements may play an important role in determining stress levels in retirement.”

“From other studies, we also know that wealth, financial security, and adequate pension arrangements are also important determinants of stress levels among older adults,” he added. “Retirees from low status jobs tend to have poorer levels of such financial arrangements, which may explain some of the differences between occupational groups that we found.”

Problem may be much greater

This study, like all studies, has its limitations. It analyzed cortisol samples taken on only two days, for example. Those days may not have been "typical" for all of the participants.

Also, the study involved only British civil servants. It’s not clear how transferrable the findings would be to other occupations — and to other countries, such as the United States, where post-retirement economic and social safety nets differ from those in Great Britain.

In Britain, “civil servants tend to have much better working conditions than workers in general,” Chandola acknowledged.

Yet, he added, “the fact that we were able to find such an association between stress and occupational status in this relatively privileged group of workers suggests the problem is much greater in other occupations, where working conditions for people in low status jobs are much tougher.”

How could the inequities suggested by this study be corrected?

“While most studies on reducing stress focus on individual behavioral changes such as physical activity, diet, and meditation, what this study shows is that wider social determinants such as occupations and pensions are also important,” Chandola said. “Changing occupational imbalances such as making pension arrangements fairer for all workers may be an important way to correct the imbalance.”

FMI:  You can read the study in full at the Journals of Gerontology Series B’s website.

What early childhood investment means to my family and me

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 8:00am
Courtesy of the authorThe author with her daughter, DaNae

As Minnesota lawmakers, early childhood advocates, and nonprofit professionals publicly share their views regarding our state’s need to invest in the early start of our children, I recognize there is a critical voice missing — voices of parents like me.

My two children and I live in a state with educational opportunity gaps that are among the worst in the nation. Research tells us these gaps begin before our children start kindergarten. In the beginning of every school year, 15,400 low-income children enter kindergarten unprepared; this leads to gaps that get worse as our children continue within our educational system. These numbers and statistics are lived realities for many families in my community.

I had severe complications during the birth of my first child and because of those complications, my daughter DaNae experienced brain damage and is hearing impaired. I was 19 years old, confused, scared, and didn’t know where to turn. Thankfully, I had the support of my family and a combination of state-sponsored programs to support my child and me through this traumatic process. When DaNae was a couple of months old, a program by the name of Help Me Grow visited me in my home to provide assistance, information, as well as a speech teacher and a physical therapist to assist with my daughter’s development.

OAS_AD("Middle");State-sponsored scholarship

After I returned to work, I realized how expensive child care was as my whole paycheck was going to pay for DaNae’s child-care expenses. The assistance I did have didn’t cover the full cost of care, and was dependent on the job that I had. It was critical and important to me that my child learned and developed in a high quality environment. I applied for a state-sponsored scholarship and was wait listed for a year. Finally, when DaNae was 3 years old, we received a scholarship that would fully cover DaNae’s child-care expenses.

Because of the quality care DaNae has received both inside and outside of her home, she has blossomed into a smart, creative, and social girl. You just can’t help but notice her as soon as she walks in through the door. Today, DaNae attends kindergarten at a French immersion school and is reading above average in French and English. Because my daughter received a scholarship, her little brother, 3-year-old JaMir, automatically received one as well. He attends child care in St. Paul, and is well on his way to following the growth of his sister. 

Many families still left out

I am thankful for the support my children and I have received thus far. However, many families like ours are wait listed or simply do not receive assistance for child care. This hurts the well-being of our community. More important, it hurts the well-being of our children. Families need full-day, year-round child care, so parents can pursue career and educational opportunities. Families need child care that reflects their values and culture. Families need child care that will take care of children in a thoughtful way and get them ready for kindergarten.

That is why I am compelled to call on parents to raise our voices and share what our families need. I am also calling on lawmakers and professionals to listen to the voices of parents, to include us in these conversations, and to pass policies and programs that will truly help us.

Now through the end of the legislative session, I am asking parents to join me by making a short social media video about what we need for our children, and posting it with the hashtag #parentvoice. It is time to make sure all of our kids get a good start.

TraNeicia Sylvester, from St. Paul, is a community advocate for teen health and a mother of two children. Six-year-old DaNae is finishing kindergarten, and JaMir, a 3-year-old, attends a child-care center in St. Paul.


If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

Klobuchar fuels 2020 speculation with Iowa visit

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 5:33am
Brian Lambert

Says Jennifer Brooks of the Strib, “Sen. Amy Klobuchar didn’t have much to say about the White House, or its current occupant, as she mingled Sunday with hundreds of Iowa Democratic activists who will play an outsized role in picking President Trump’s next opponent. Instead, Minnesota’s senior senator talked jobs and education and rural broadband. But her mere presence at a Polk County fundraiser — she’s one of the first national politicians to venture into this early presidential state since Trump took office — inevitably set off speculation about Klobuchar’s 2020 aspirations.” You think? 

Changes are nigh to teacher licensing. Says Christopher Magan for the PiPress, “The years-long task of overhauling Minnesota’s way of licensing teachers has entered the home stretch. If lawmakers can resolve the differences in bills that have already cleared the House and Senate in a way that wins the approval of Gov. Mark Dayton they can accomplish one of the biggest reforms to state education policy in recent history.” 

Wired magazine gets in on our anti-vaxxer/measles issue. Megan Molten writes, “Over the last decade, anti-vaxxers have fortified this corner of Minneapolis into a bastion for pseudo-science. It all began with higher-than-normal rates of severe autism in the Somali community. And when state and university researchers failed to understand why the disorder hit so hard here, families went looking for answers elsewhere: friends, and the all-knowing internet. In came the anti-vax partisans, whose success with these frightened parents has turned the neighborhood into a beachhead for what should be a totally preventable disease.”

Give this pooch another couple pig ears. KMSP-TV reports, “A Red Wing family was evacuated from their burning home Saturday morning, after their dog woke them up. At 1:56 a.m., the Red Wing Fire Department responded to a call about a garage fire on the 1900 block of Burton Street. Paramedics responded within five minutes, only to find the garage fully engulfed in flames. Flames and smoke extended into the house, damaging the second floor and attic.”

Related … to dogs. Steve Karnowski of the AP says, “Gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan could again find themselves in hunters’ crosshairs — possibly as soon as this fall if federal protections are removed for the predators. A ruling is expected soon from an appeals court that recently lifted protections for wolves in Wyoming. In Congress, wolf-hunting supporters aren’t giving up even though a Minnesota representative was instrumental in killing an effort that would have allowed the three western Great Lakes states to resume wolf hunting.”

Over the weekend, the Oracle of Omaha spoke about Wells Fargo’s problems. Kristine Phillips of the Washington Post writes, “Billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett rebuked Wells Fargo’s handling of widespread illegal sales practices that spanned at least 15 years and included targeting undocumented immigrants to open new bank accounts. Buffett said the San Francisco banking giant’s executives failed to act immediately after finding out that employees were creating countless fake and fraudulent bank accounts to meet the company’s unrealistic sales goals. Wells Fargo ‘incentivized the wrong type of behavior’, Buffett said Saturday during Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in Omaha. The 86-year-old tycoon is Berkshire’s chairman. ‘If there’s a major problem, the CEO will get wind of it. At that moment, that’s the key to everything.’” Buffett has said as much before.

Garrison Keillor likes night driving. In a piece for The Washington Post he says, “All last week I got to drive around Minnesota late at night, drifting through the little towns, just me and the truckers out on the road and Merle and George and Emmylou on the radio. I was doing a little dog-and-pony show around my home state and I like driving at night. … At home I try to be kind, but out here, to the disgruntled voter who feels ignored by Washington, I say, ‘Put away the 12-pack and the three-cheese chips, lose the gut, stop smoking, turn off the TV. Papa is not responsible for your sad life. Go back to school, arise at dawn, take brisk walks, think big, show your kids how it’s done.’ That’s me talking at 70 mph.” 

It’s the collapse of civilization. Says Stribber Paul Walsh, “Many car owners in Edina, particularly in one heavily targeted part of the city, have been unwittingly enticing one or more perpetrators into stealing items from their vehicles in recent weeks, authorities said. Police detected a ‘significant increase in thefts from vehicles throughout the city,’ but especially in one area of town. This has prompted the city to put up a $2,000 reward for information leading to solving these crimes, Edina officials said last week.” 

The business of Funkytown

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 2:55pm

Prince was not yet a star in 1980 when Minneapolitan Steven Greenberg wrote and produced the dance-floor anthem “Funkytown” for the Minneapolis-based studio group Lipps Inc. They had a radio hit with a catchy song from the later stages of disco, and 37 years later, “Funkytown” remains a robust business for Greenberg.


Greenberg says he is unsure how many times the song has been licensed for movies, TV shows, commercials, video games and other uses. “Maybe over 500 [times],” he says. “A lot of it is not in the U.S.”

A version commissioned about a decade ago stands out: “There was a French nuclear energy company called Areva Energy,” recalls Greenberg. “They had the London Symphony Orchestra record a version at Abbey Road Studios.” Greenberg calls that interpretation “my absolute favorite.”

Greenberg, 66, remains in the Twin Cities. He is now pushing The Funkytown 15, a digital collection of 15 new versions of the song in a variety of musical styles: marching band, reggae, klezmer, acoustic blues, surf and more. The music is available through Amazon, iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. The target audience? The next generation of music industry pros who will seek to license the tune.

“It’s pretty much all about licensing,” says Greenberg. “It’s going to go to music supervisors and publishers.” Royalties generated by the ongoing popularity of the song have been “life-changing” over the years, says Greenberg.

Greenberg has had other businesses along the way. For more than 15 years he ran Designstein, an interactive advertising agency. He also operated October Records, a local music label with bands such as the Honeydogs. In the mid-1990s, he directed and produced a movie called—what else?—Funkytown, a documentary about aspiring Twin Cities bands.

Behind the scenes, a still-simmering legal battle continues over the ownership of the “Funkytown” copyright. “My lawyer says I own it and Universal Music Group says they own it,” says Greenberg, “and it has not been resolved.”

But Greenberg is looking ahead. If “Funkytown” is enduring, he wants his next generation to take over: “I have two sons who, hopefully, will run this thing someday.

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

Mining Minnesota study misfires on tourism

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 2:34pm
Marshall Helmberger

A new study produced by Mining Minnesota highlights the major impact of taconite mining on the region’s economy, and contrasts that to what it claims is a much-smaller impact from the tourism sector. The study, putting it mildly, has problems.

It’s pretty obvious that mining plays a big role in the region’s economy, although it is one that has declined significantly over the years in terms of total employment and its overall share of the region’s total payroll. As of 2015, according to the study, the taconite mining industry directly employs 3,363 workers, or barely a quarter of the 12,000 miners who worked in the region’s taconite industry in the late 1970s — and the region continues to produce about exactly the same amount of taconite as 40 years ago. That’s called handwriting on the wall, and those who envision a resurgence of mining jobs in the region would do well to consider the history of automation and its impact on the region’s employment.

Granted the mining jobs that still exist pay well, averaging about $81,000 a year for a miner, according to the report. If that’s the point that Mining Minnesota wanted to make, they would have done well to make it and move on. Instead, the report was plainly produced as a counterweight to the concerns expressed by those in the tourism sector, who worry that the start-up of a copper-nickel industry in the heart of the Superior National Forest, along the southern edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, will significantly harm an industry that has built up to serve visitors to the region.

And that is where the study goes off the rails and begins to look much more like industry propaganda than a fair-minded analysis, deploying highly questionable assumptions in seeking to make a political point.

In comparing the impact of the mining sector to tourism, the report at least acknowledges that tourism employs more residents of the region, citing a total of 6,390 direct and indirect jobs compared to the 5,140 in the mining sector. Those tourism jobs, according to the report, come with an average wage just under $18,000 per year, or far less than jobs in the mining cluster. Doing the math, the report claims that the mining cluster generates $418 million in annual payroll, compared to just $116 million for tourism.

Looks like a powerful case, until you recognize how Mining Minnesota juggled the numbers and badly mischaracterized the broader impact of tourism. If you read carefully, the report acknowledges that it did not include one of the largest single tourism-related sectors— known as “food services and drinking establishments” in economists’ lingo — in their analysis. Every other study I’ve ever seen on tourism impact prominently includes this sector, without question.

Mining Minnesota’s says it left it out because economic development is only created by industries that bring “new money” into a region, whereas food service relies primarily on local business. That’s rubbish, as any restaurant owner in our area could attest. Most just try to survive the winter months, waiting for the return of summer. It’s the same all across the North Shore and much of Duluth. The throngs of people who pour into Canal Park in Duluth each year and eat at the many restaurants there are overwhelmingly from outside the Duluth area.

But here’s the problem for Mining Minnesota. The food service sector is so large that including it would have significantly changed the story it was trying to tell. This sector alone employs 7,590 people in the region, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If two-thirds of those jobs are highly dependent on tourism dollars (and it would be even higher in our local area) it would nearly double the number of jobs attributable to tourism. What’s more, food service jobs pay better than other jobs that Mining Minnesota did include as “tourism,” so this would have altered the average wage in the sector and significantly increased the total payroll in the sector. Indeed, if you assume two-thirds of the restaurant and bar workers are primarily tourism dependent, you find that tourism employs more than twice as many residents of the region as mining. And if you take the average wage of about $23,000 a year for a restaurant worker, that adds $116 million in annual payroll to the sector. Mining still generates a bigger payroll, but the disparity is cut in half.

If you look further into the details, the report is riddled with other questionable assumptions that undermine the study’s credibility. While the report failed to include restaurant and bar workers under the tourism sector, they included a number of other very low-paying sectors that would appear to have little connection to tourism. Fitness centers, event promoters, racetracks, sports and recreation instruction, and spectator sports constitute about 10 percent of the jobs the report attributes to tourism in our region. The one thing they all share in common is a very low reported wage. Whether they are predominantly related to tourism is questionable. How many tourists hit the gym when they arrive in Ely, for example? Adding these sectors under “tourism,” however, helps push down the average wage.

While some of this was likely intentional, other aspects of the study reflect that Mining Minnesota has a limited understanding of the makeup of the tourism sector. Their listing of sector jobs fails to include a long list of occupations that, in communities in our area, are heavily dependent on tourism. The majority of Main Street businesses in the communities of our area would shut down without the annual influx of revenue from summer visitors and seasonal residents. Add all those jobs, ranging from insurance and financial, real estate, grocery sales, convenience stores, and even the media, and you get a truer picture of tourism’s impact, both in terms of wages as well as economic diversity.

In either case, it shouldn’t be an either-or proposition. Those who worry about the impact of copper-nickel mining are largely supportive of the taconite industry and recognize the value it brings to the region’s economy as a whole. While these two sectors are currently able to co-exist, that is possible largely due to the geographic separation between them. The tourism cluster in northeastern Minnesota is based in Duluth, the North Shore, and northern St. Louis and Lake counties, while mining is currently limited to the Mesabi Iron Range in central St. Louis County. If the Duluth Complex is developed for copper-nickel, that separation will disappear, at least in our area. Add to that the fact that sulfide-based copper-nickel mining is inherently a higher risk to the environment than taconite mining, and the concerns of those in the tourism sector become far more justified.

While Mining Minnesota took pains to publicly state their support for the tourism sector, their study’s comparative approach sends an altogether different, albeit subtler, message— that it’s okay to sacrifice tourism for mining because mining jobs pay better.

That’s exactly the wrong message for a region that is desperate for economic diversity and to attract a broader range of new residents. What it says to prospective residents and business owners is clear. Don’t bother to invest in our communities. In the end, only mining counts. That’s not the message that builds a sustainable future.

Mining Minnesota should stick to promoting the mining industry. Mischaracterizing tourism just doesn’t suit them.

Marshall Helmberger is the publisher of The Timberjay newspapers (including the Ely Timberjay, Tower-Soudan Timberjay and Cook-Orr Timberjay), where this commentary originally appeared. It is republished with permission.


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The AHCA would neither repeal nor replace Obamacare

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 2:10pm
Eric Black

The “American Health Care Act,” which I’ll keep calling Trump/Ryancare and which squeaked through the House yesterday, is a bit of a fraud. It neither repeals nor replaces The Affordable Care Act, which Republicans succeeded in dubbing Obamacare.

Instead, if it becomes law, it would leave most of Obamacare in place. How can you call that “repeal” or “replace?” It makes a few changes,  almost all of which are beneficial to rich people (who would stand to get a big tax cut) and health insurance companies, who would have increased flexibility to avoid insuring people on whom they stood to lose money. Many people — especially sick people and working poor people and especially sick poor people in red states — will lose coverage or have to pay more for it.

Personally, I am offended by the apparent need felt by House Republicans to rush it to final passage without allowing the Congressional Budget Office to score the bill. Presumably, the CBO will soon issue its report on how Trump/Ryancare is likely to affect costs and coverage. If the House Republicans (no Democrats voted for the bill) are proud of this accomplishment, they should stop lying about it (a start could be dropping the insultingly false “repeal and replace” gag) and allow the country to know what effects the CBO’s impartial number-crunchers think the law will cause.

On the CBO point: Republicans will say either that the CBO is biased against them (which is pretty ridiculous since the CBO works for the Republican-controlled Congress) or that the CBO projections often turn out to be wrong. The latter point is reasonable, if they add that no one can really project the long-term future impact of a bill like this with a high confidence of perfect accuracy.

The CBO has a solid reputation of honestly projecting these things as best as it can. It exists so Congress can have the benefit of a neutral, expert analysis before it votes. Rushing something this big, complicated and important through the House without the benefit of CBO’s analysis strikes me as an admission that the CBO report will be embarrassing to those who voted for it.

Since no one asked me, here’s a small very sensible (IMHO) suggestion: Both houses of Congress should have a rule preventing a vote on final passage of a bill of this magnitude and complexity without waiting for CBO analysis. Or else just shut the CBO down and use the savings to help some sick, poor people.

Of course, I’m making too much of the passage of the bill without a CBO score, because the analysis will be ready before the Senate votes, and there seems to be widespread agreement that Trump/Ryancare will not probably pass the Senate as written. It just stinks to not wait for a neutral expert analysis of the bill by the agency that the Congress created for that purpose.

By the way, have I mentioned recently that President Trump (who claims to be thrilled with Trump/Ryancare as it stands), said as a candidate his health care plan would cover everyone and the government would pay for it.

I’ve written about this before, and I know how rude it is to bring up what a candidate promised when he wanted everyone’s vote, but here’s a taste of what Trump said about his health care reform idea last September, after he was the nominee, in an interview with Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes”:

TRUMP: “Everybody's got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say because a lot of times they say, 'No, no, the lower 25 percent that can't afford private. But —' ”

PELLEY: “Universal health care.”

TRUMP: “I am going to take care of everybody. I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody's going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now.”

PELLEY: “The uninsured person is going to be taken care of. How? How?”

TRUMP: “They're going to be taken care of. I would make a deal with existing hospitals to take care of people. And, you know what, if this is probably —”

PELLEY: “Make a deal? Who pays for it?”

TRUMP: "— the government's gonna pay for it. But we're going to save so much money on the other side. But for the most it's going to be a private plan and people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors with great companies and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything."

Finally, if you want some Left and Right instant analysis of the bill that passed yesterday, you could do worse than read the instant analyses from the liberal New Republic and the conservative Weekly Standard.

Brian Beutler’s piece in The New Republic is headlined, “The Republican Health Plan Is a Lethal Moral Obscenity.” So you can tell where he’s going.

Chris Deaton’s piece in The Weekly Standard, headlined “Republicans Shove Health Bill Across Finish Line,” is (as the headline implies) less enthusiastic in favor of Trump/RyanCare than is Beutler against it. You’ll learn a lot by reading both, so I’ll just shut up for now.

MinnRoast 2017 slide show #3

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 2:01pm
Corey Anderson

Photos from the pre-MinnRoast 2017 reception at Rock Bottom Brewery featuring Lee Lynch, the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, Andrew Zimmern, Mary Lahammer and more. MinnPost contributing photographer Jana Freiband captured the evening.

Funds raised at MinnRoast 2017 were in honor of Lee Lynch and Terry Saario, whose philanthropic and creative work helped launch MinnPost ten years ago. Join the nearly 225 individuals who have already contributed to the new Lee Lynch & Terry Saario Innovation Fund with a gift to help MinnPost grow, innovate, and expand our coverage of important regional and national issues.

MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandSara Miele and event sponsor Ellen WolfsonMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMembers of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus ensemble OutLoud!: Carlos Saldaña, OutLoud! Director Jerry Rubino, Anthony Streiff, Logan Miller, Maxwell Freudenthal and Rich FriesonMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandScott Potter and Lucia WatsonOAS_AD("Middle");MinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMolly Murphy, Jennifer Witt, Brian Moberg, Alexander Wolsky and MinnPost board member Kandace OlsenMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandFawn Bernhardt-Norvell, "Almanac" Capitol reporter Mary Lahammer and Judy BrunswickMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandJoel Hutchison, Joan Hutchison, Alvin Hutchison and MinnRoast cast member Michelle HutchisonMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandRon Eldred, MinnPost reporter Ibrahim Hirsi and Pat EldredMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandCelebrity chef and MinnRoast cast member Andrew Zimmern, center, with Ezra and Adeev Potash, the Potash TwinsMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMatt Schmit, MinnPost publisher and CEO Andrew Wallmeyer, event sponsors Mike and Kay O'Keefe, and Dane SmithMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnRoast performer DJ/FRND, a.k.a. Donovan Jackson, right, and Shawn Fitz B.C., a.k.a. Shawn FitzgibbonsMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandCarla Purdue, MinnRoast cast members Amy Buchanan and Mugsy, Lulu Bronson and Charlotte NavarroMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMegan O'Hara and R.T. RybakMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandArthur Himmelman, event sponsors Sylvia and Sam KaplanMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandJoan Onffroy and Andrea FeshbachMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandDee Gaeddert, Jim Dorsey and Linda SatoriusMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandTwin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus artistic director Dr. Ben Riggs and executive director Jeff Heine, and Alison SmithMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandJonathan Scoll and MinnRoast committee member Barbara ScollMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandVocalist Katia Cardenas and her band — Jordan Hedlund, drums, Matt Senjem, bass, and Steven Hobert, piano — provided pre-show entertainmentMinnPost photo by Jana FreibandMinnRoast performer DJ/FRND and MinnRoast director/performer Ashleigh Swenson