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How do we create new jobs in Minnesota?

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opinion Detroit Lakes, 56501
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State lawmakers will be hard-pressed to find money for new programs, in light of a projected 21?2-year state budget deficit of $5.27 billion. But provisions must be made for new money, either through new revenue sources or by shifting spending priorities, in order to set a course out of what could be a long-term damaging recession.

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The quickest way out of the recession is by creating jobs, thousands of them.

While many politicians are counting on manna from Washington, D.C., in the form of billions of dollars for ready-to-roll highway and bridge projects, long-term economic stability will come from creating new private sector jobs that meet a demand and stay around.

First, we must weather the shakeout of the broadening recession. Its effect is keenly felt in Bemidji, where we learn this week that 140 workers are permanently out of jobs at Ainsworth Lumber Co.'s plant in Bemidji. The housing market continues to slip, with no predications of a turn-around. Many of those workers have already tapped available state resources, but those who haven't will now need help from job-seeking skills, retraining programs and worker displacement aids. Thanks to a federal extension, unemployment benefits will see an additional 20 weeks, out to August 2009. But what if there are no jobs?

Compounded throughout Minnesota, layoffs will mean more money for state job training and displaced worker programs. But also, in tough economic times, more people return to school to gain different or more job skills. That will put pressure on state institutions, especially the Minnesota State Universities and Colleges system, which will have its funding under scrutiny by the Legislature and where tuition rates remain high and will no doubt go higher.

Innovative thinking will be needed for new-jobs creation. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, remembers another time when the economy was sour and then-Gov. Rudy Perpich tried something bold: the Minnesota Emergency Employment Development Act, which gave employers a six-month, $4-per-hour subsidy for every new job they created for Minnesotans who were out of work. Those staying on the job for more than 18 months had the state pass on employers' having to reimburse the state for the aid. The program, Rukavina says, created 21,000 permanent unsubsidized jobs.

That program cost $70 million; costs of a similar program today can only be estimated. Still, it involves new program money at a time the state can least afford it.

But to provide a foundation for long-term economic stability, the state must find the money for such programs and similar ones that call for investments now for paybacks later. Hard choices will need to be made, ones that the public may not like such as the loss of state services that are "nice" but not "necessary." -- Bemidji Pioneer

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