U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., stopped in Winona and Wabasha on Friday as part of a regional tour to learn more about southeast Minnesota’s economy and discuss job growth and locally made products.

Klobuchar first toured Peerless Chain, where she met with company leaders and learned about recent gains, like the company’s acquisition of a major competitor in September. She also learned about challenges the company faces, like finding skilled workers.

“What makes this country grow are companies like this, who make things,” Klobuchar said. “These are the examples of people who extend Minnesota’s economy.”

Klobuchar’s tour is titled “Made in America” and in part was focused on regional companies’ ability to compete in a global marketplace.

Peerless, which makes chain for a variety of uses, currently employs about 300 people at its Winona location. In addition to buying Security Chain last month, Peerless has acquired three other businesses in the past eight years. They continue to add jobs locally, with 17 new positions filled since September, said Peerless President Tom Wynn.
“Our future vision is to continue to grow, add companies and add jobs to Winona,” Wynn said. “It’s nice to have a U.S. senator hear our story, because we love to tell it.”

Klobuchar expressed interest in the company’s international focus during her visit. She voted for two of three free-trade agreements passed by Congress earlier this month, and said her goal is to ensure the agreements are enforced.

“Tourism has to be part of the solution”
After touring Peerless, Klobuchar drove north on U.S. Hwy. 61 to Wabasha, where city officials showed her the ways the small river city is emerging as a tourist destination.

Don Jacoby, a member of Wabasha’s Port Authority, outlined some recent expansions, including the new National Eagle Center, a $4.6 million project completed in 2007. Since it opened, Jacoby said, fundraising efforts have whittled the debt to just $130,000.

“This is a giving community,” Jacoby said. “Without that kind of a community, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
Other city officials outlined plans still in development, including a fishery that’s expected to bring 15 full-time jobs to the city. The city is also working to re-open the Anderson House, a landmark hotel that closed in 2009.
Klobuchar said getting the hotel back in business would likely further boost the city’s tourism numbers.
“I truly believe tourism has to be part of the solution,” she said. She practices what she preaches: She’s vacationed in southeast Minnesota the past three summers.

Klobuchar also outlined some of her own efforts to boost tourism both locally and nationally, including a bill that would reduce the wait for an American visa. She said the bill would make the U.S. more accessible to international tourists.

“We’re working really hard on things,” Klobuchar said, adding that the country has lost 16 percent of its international tourism since 2001. “Anything we can do to add even one or two points back would be incredible.”

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