By Mike O'Rourke
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Monday heard Brainerd area business people weigh in on multiple concerns during a tour of Stern Assembly, a rotational molding facility in the Brainerd Industrial Park. The plant, a part of Stern Companies, employs about 50 employees on two shifts and 65 people company-wide.
One of the major concerns expressed was related to the uncertainty of the depreciation tax credit.
"It's outrageous," she said of the failure of Congress to pass a depreciation credit that would give businesses the ability to plan ahead and make decisions on possible investments. The depreciation tax credit is part of a larger tax bill she said is likely to be extended before the end of the year. She predicted the Senate would probably pass an extension of the tax bill after the November elections. While she expected Senate passage by the end of the year, she said passage of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives could be more problematic.
"The hope is to get it done," she told a reporter during the tour.
While at the plant Klobuchar asked Stern Companies officials and other invited business guests questions on the availability of workers, how they reach their customers and broadband capabilities.
Matt Killian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber CEO, said manufacturing in the Brainerd area is a pretty robust sector but there are work force shortages. Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation, said while the county has added 30 new companies in the last 25 years, growth has been somewhat stagnant in the recent past. Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, said the Legislature recently passed legislation authorizing the spending of about $20 million for broadband expansion, an amount that was reduced from the original amount that was intended. He said the city of Brainerd has been consistently ranked first or second among cities of its size in unemployment, even though Crow Wing County's employment picture has improved.
Klobuchar's visit came after she had made earlier stops at St. Michael for an Interstate 94 capacity groundbreaking ceremony and a tour of Aitkin Iron Works Inc. After leaving Brainerd she was scheduled to stop at the Smude farm near Pierz for a Smude Sunflower Oil tour.
Marco Marqueti, a Sterns Assembly supervisor, guided Klobuchar on her plant tour.
Also on the tour were Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point; Chris Robinson of Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation; Jim Haakonson of CliftonLarsonAllen; President Larry Lundblad and Rebekah Kent of Central Lakes College; and Shawn Hunstad, Tom Caouette, Jackie Gastecki and Jerry Sinner, all of Stern Companies.