GRAND RAPIDS (AP) -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty told workers laid-off from Blandin Paper that he will remember them as his administration tries to encourage the creation of manufacturing jobs in rural Minnesota.
Pawlenty said Tuesday that he will soon return to the Iron Range for a forum on the region's economy, which has been hit hard by layoffs in the forestry industry and plant closings in the taconite industry.
Pawlenty mentioned themes over specifics in a speech and tried to prepare his Grand Rapids audiences for the pain of large state budget cuts in the next two years.
Nonetheless, Pawlenty's visit was gratifying to Blandin workers, 298 of whom lost their jobs last week when the Finnish-owned company closed down two paper production lines.
Jeff Skelly and Rick Christy were relieved to hear Pawlenty say the state's program for helping dislocated workers has enough money to help those at Blandin.
"Most of us are set up for two incomes," said Skelly, whose wife works. "And we just lost half of that."
Besides the Blandin cuts, 400 jobs at the National Steel Pellet Co. plant in Keewatin, about 20 miles from Grand Rapids, could be threatened.
The plant could shut down as its parent company attempts to sell its other facilities.
"This state is hemorrhaging jobs," Pawlenty told the Blandin workers at their Teamsters Union hall. "Our economy is splitting by skill levels. If you get a job in the knowledge economy, life can be OK, but if all we have left is jobs in the service industry, where wages are low and you have basically no benefits, then we're in a tough show."
He flew to Grand Rapids on a state plane hours after proposing a plan to cure the state's $356 million deficit projected for the current fiscal year.
He met with Blandin executives in a private meeting requested by Blandin.
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