By Rep. Dean Urdahl
I recently met with Hutchinson Technology Incorporated executives to discuss why the company plans to cut 600 local jobs and also to examine options for dislocated workers.
Significant job loss is the last thing we need as we struggle to emerge from this recession. While Hutchinson itself will be hit the hardest by HTI’s workforce reduction, approximately 15 percent of HTI’s workforce resides in District 18B cities like Litchfield and Dassel. I asked whether there was anything the state could have done to prevent this job loss from occurring. The answer I received is this: No.
First of all, I was told advancements in production mean HTI needs fewer workers. Some employees are being shifted to Eau Claire, Wis., where HTI has a more modern facility. Others have been transferred to Thailand for a variety of reasons.
Back when HTI started manufacturing computer disc drive components back in the 1960s, all of the company’s business was in the United States back. Today, 98 percent of HTI’s accounts are in Asia and those customers prefer to have their manufacturer in closer proximity. Furthermore, Thailand offers the competitive advantages of reduced labor costs and zero taxes.
These are issues Minnesota faces in today’s global economy and we’re going to have to make improvements. We need to do more to maintain and retain businesses in our state, but it appears HTI and its highly specialized market is a special case. Even a warmer tax climate likely would not have been the silver bullet we needed.
The good news is 35 companies within a 50-mile radius have contacted HTI, inquiring about the availability of employees. This may prove to mitigate the layoff pain and other dislocated workers will be participating in a state program which matches laid-off workers with job counselors and ushers them into re-training programs and school.
In order to attract new businesses to start or relocate here, we have to show them that our priority is growing jobs, not raising taxes.
We also must do more to streamline Minnesota’s complex and uncertain permitting process, which hinders business development and expansion. We’ve made progress in this regard during the current legislative session, but I believe we can do more. I continue working on reforms which set reasonable timelines for permit approval and eliminates duplicative parts of the process that cause unnecessary delays.