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Scott Wente, Published April 16 2009

Laws haven’t spurred ‘green jobs’ in Minn.

ST. PAUL – New renewable energy and conservation laws have not resulted in an employment boost for Minnesota, said lawmakers trying to spur “green job” growth in the state.

Minnesota is missing out on companies looking to cash in on the “green,” or low-carbon energy movement because other states offer better tax and economic incentives, senators said.

Skeptical members of the Senate Taxes Committee heard two proposals Wednesday, including one that would offer tax exemptions and credits to energy companies that locate in Minnesota.

It is patterned after the state’s Job Opportunity Building Zones program, but targets the clean-energy industry and would be available throughout the state, said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, who is sponsoring the legislation.

The original JOBZ program provides tax incentives to businesses that move to or expand in certain rural areas. The Green JOBZ incentives, including property tax exemptions and other tax breaks, would help make Minnesota competitive with other Midwest states that are attracting wind, solar and biofuels companies, Rosen said.

“They’re frankly kicking us around,” she said, noting that Iowa has increased its business grants and loans and seen an influx of new business growth as a result. “We are getting the leftovers, unfortunately, when it comes to green technology or clean technology.”

The Green JOBZ proposal is an initiative of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who pushed for the creation of JOBZ, a controversial program some lawmakers say has had only mixed success.

The Green JOBZ program targeting renewable energy firms is needed because tax benefits would last several years beyond those offered through JOBZ, said Mark Lofthus of the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“The window is shrinking with the existing JOBZ,” he said of benefits ending in 2015.

Another proposal is aimed at reversing Minnesota’s manufacturing job losses.

Minnesota lost 5,000 manufacturing jobs in February alone, said John Dybvig of Blue Green Alliance, a collaboration of labor and environmental organizations.

Jobs are disappearing in communities around Minnesota, Anderson said.

“This is not a Twin Cities issue; this is a statewide issue,” she said.

The Green JOBZ proposal has been considered in House committees, but there is no House companion to Anderson’s manufacturing proposal. She said it still could become part of Senate-House tax negotiations.

Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com