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Low High-Tech Ranking Gives Legislators Ammunition
By Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
April 19, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Session 2001
Click for audio RealAudio

A study ranks the Twin Cities metropolitan area 10th in the nation in its ability to succeed in the high-tech economy. Some Minnesota lawmakers say the Twin Cities can do better than that, and are using the study to push for more funding for education and high-tech initiatives.

L to R: DFL Rep. Greg Gray of Minneapolis, DFL Sen. Dick Cohen of St. Paul, Ember Reichgott Junge and DFL Sen. Steve Kelley of Hopkins

See the complete report on high-tech rankings.
THE STUDY BY THE PROGRESSIVE POLICY INSTITUTE, the research arm of the Democratic Leadership Council, gives the Twin Cities high marks for workforce training and the number of high-tech jobs. But the region lags behind other metropolitan areas in academic research and development funding, and degrees granted in science and technology. Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul says the Twin Cities barely edged out Atlanta for the number-10 spot, and Atlanta and other cities could easily surpass the Twin Cities in the future.

"The governor of Georgia and the Georgia Legislature have put (about) $275 million into the Georgia Research Alliance. Ohio's put significant money into similar efforts, Pennsylvania has done that," says Cohen.

Cohen and several other DFL legislators say the study demonstrates the need to put more money into the University of Minnesota than the $56 million of new money in Gov. Ventura's budget. But Ventura spokesman John Wodele says the answer isn't always more money.

"It may require us to sustain our position or to improve it. It may require the universities in the state of Minnesota, public universities and private universities, to narrow their focus, perhaps, in the high-tech and engineering and science degrees," Wodele says.

House Republicans come down somewhere between the governor's budget proposal and the level of spending Senate Democrats are calling for. Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty of Eagan, who works for an e-business consulting firm called Wizmo, says being ranked number 10 isn't bad, but he says the Twin Cities could do better in several areas, such as venture capital retention and high-tech job growth. He says House Republicans have several initiatives to spur the technology sector.

"In the House side, we're going to be focusing on some investment tax credits that will be earmarked to high-tech or new technology business start-ups, we're doing some venture capitol initiatives or encouragements for venture capital in our tax bill," Pawlenty says.

One thing missing from both the House and Senate agendas is telecommunications reform. Gov. Ventura proposed overhauling the way the state regulates telecommunications to increase competition throughout the state, but his proposal appears dead for the session.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, widely viewed as the Legislature's high-tech expert, says telecom reform is a missed opportunity, but will be back again next year. Kelley says the state also needs to do more to foster a spirit of entrepreneurism.

"And maybe there's a cultural thing there; maybe it's this northern European or Scandinavian risk-avoidance that makes it harder to get entrepreneurs going. I don't know, but that is something where we need to do a better job in the formation of new companies," Kelley says.

Kelley also says the state needs to encourage more women and people of color to pursue high-tech careers. He says there are enough "middle-class white guys" going into technology.