MAPLEWOOD (AP) -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty donned a hairnet on Thursday, taking a tour of a milk bottler and listening to manufacturers frustrated by what they call the high costs and regulatory headaches of doing business in Minnesota.
Pawlenty promised to halt Minnesota's loss of manufacturing jobs and told the business leaders that he would introduce legislation to reduce health care costs.
Pawlenty spoke at a roundtable at Schroeder Co., a family-owned dairy bottler. His visit was part of a tour that also took him to Technology Plus in Mankato and a public works facility in Moorhead. Pawlenty said his meetings with business leaders in all three places were aimed at gathering ideas for making Minnesota a more hospitable place for manufacturers.
Pawlenty said Minnesota has lost 68,000 jobs since the recession began in March 2001, although the state recently recorded two consecutive months of growth for the first time since then.
"We are deadly serious about being committed to stop job loss and starting job growth in this state," he told about two dozen business leaders at Schroeder.
Pawlenty joked that Trade and Economic Development Commissioner Matt Kramer's own job depended on Minnesota employment increasing. Turning to Kramer, Pawlenty said that "if he can't get that done, I'm going to fire him. And I'll probably get fired, too, as part of that process."
Pawlenty left the Schroeder meeting promising to introduce legislation that would reduce health care costs. He said he expects to introduce several small proposals, possibly including a plan to import prescription drugs from Canada.
Health costs were just one of the concerns business leaders shared. Others included unemployment and worker's compensation costs that they said are higher than neighboring states, and high corporate taxes.
Phil Graber, the general manager at Minneapolis tooling maker NTM Inc., said he'd like to see the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration do more to consult with employers instead of focusing on enforcement and investigations.
Graber said employers just want someone to help them follow the rules -- not an agency that simply walks through a shop and hands over a list of safety shortcomings.
"There isn't a business in Minnesota that I know that's out there to hurt their employees," he told Pawlenty.
Mark Erickson said he's more worried about taxes and high worker's compensation insurance rates than health care costs.
Erickson is president of Thomas Engineering in Minneapolis, which employs 80 people in Minnesota and also has a small operation in New Mexico to serve Mexican markets.
He said his competitors in neighboring states have to deal with higher health care costs, too. Pawlenty could help, he said, by reducing costs such as Minnesota's worker's comp rates and unemployment insurance -- "all those things that our neighbors are killing us on."
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