U.S. Senator met with representatives of the NOvA neutrino detector lab; focused attention on economy and jobs

Invigorating. That’s how U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar describes touring northern Minnesota and hearing first-hand from her constituents while on break from Congress.

With daughter Abigail and two staff members, Klobuchar traveled from Grand Rapids to Hibbing, to International Falls, and on to Baudette and Roseau on March 30. The next day she traveled to Thief River Falls.

“It’s examples of real things,” she said of her tour. “So many times in Washington you’re looking at legislation or numbers. I try to see some of our successful and challenged business to ask them what could be helpful and how we can make this work best.”

Her commitment to visit all of Minnesota’s 87 counties “pushes you out of the comfort level,” she said. “It’s good to hear and actually see things.”

Klobuchar said she’s focused her attention on jobs and the economy for the past year, “regardless of what the rest of Congress is doing.”

She heads a subcommittee that includes export promotion.

“One of the opportunities we have is that 95 percent of the customers of the world are outside our borders,” she said. While big companies have full-time staff working on export opportunities, smaller companies in rural areas have a harder time finding those opportunities.

A U.S. Commerce Department program, the foreign commercial service, is assisting in connecting small businesses with those opportunities. An example of the success of the program can be seen with a Minnesota company called Mattracks, the result of the imagination of its founder’s young son, who drew a picture of a large truck with tracks instead of tires. The company sells rubber track conversion systems that transform most four-wheel drive vehicles into all-terrain vehicles.

The company now has 50 employees, after the foreign commercial service found markets for the product world wide.

She said tourism is one of the largest U.S. exports. As chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the U.S. tourism industry, Klobuchar co-sponsored the Travel Promotion Act that will promote America as a tourist attraction and help the U.S. compete with other countries’ tourism promotion efforts.

“We bring people in all the time to our country,” she said. “It’s counter intuitive to think of it as an export, but it is.”

At International Falls, Klobuchar met with representatives of the NOvA neutrino detector laboratory, located near Ash River, which is operated by the University of Minnesota, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and U.S. Energy Department. The project, which is under construction, is designed for scientific research in physics.

“I thought it was very impressive,” she said, noting that the location was selected because it was the northern most point of the U.S. with highway access. She said the project points to the need for good infrastructure in Borderland, including the importance of the Falls International Airport.

Funding for the NOvA project had been cut, but was restored through the Recovery Act of 2009, she said.

“The great scientific research being done to show basically whether or not this was the way the universe was formed,” she said. “It was a really good meeting.”
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Klobuchar said she’s been pursuing a number of issues raised by constituents at her last visit to International Falls.

Among those issues are visitation to national parks, including Minnesota’s own Voyageurs National Park.

Klobuchar will conduct a hearing on tourism in national parks April 27, with documentary film-maker Ken Burns as a lead witness. In addition, she said she would recruit Voyageurs National Park Superintendent Mike Ward to speak on the need to generate tourism in national parks.

Others expected to be involved in the hearing are: U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, whose father, the late Stuart Udall, was the head of the national park service for many years; U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, whose father, John D. Rockefeller III, funded the start of several parks; and possibly a representative of the Everglades National park.

“I think it will really be quite a hearing” she said.

Klobuchar says she’s raised the difficulty Americans with driving while intoxicated charges have getting into Canada with Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who met with her and others as a part of a Canadian-American Parliament Senate group.

She said she will bring up to speed new U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, on that issue as well as concerns about the odor coming from the AbitibiBowater paper mill in Fort Frances.

Klobuchar has raised concerns about the regulations for becoming a fishing guide on U.S. border waters with Vice Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., the president’s nominee to be U.S. Coast Guard commandant.

“He said that he’s committed to work out a simple solution, so we should follow up to see what that is, now,” she said.

Small business issues were also a concern among northern Minnesotans. “We will have a small business package in the next few months,” she said.

She pointed to modifications to a Senate bill that at one point would have extended unemployment benefits only to states with 8 percent and higher unemployment rate. Minnesota would have been excluded, she said, even though northern Minnesota has an unemployment rate higher than 8 percent.

“We kept getting letters saying that maybe Minnesota’s unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, but in our household it’s 100 percent,” Klobuchar said.

In the end, Minnesota was included in the extension, she said.