Walz council on economic expansion doomed to fail

Call me skeptical. Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat and former teacher, announced a new Council on Economic Expansion for Minnesota. Economic expansion means business, right? So, the council will be full of people with a proven track record of creating jobs and growing the economy, right? They’re going to address the fact that almost every business in Minnesota has a Help Wanted sign in their window, right?


To Gov. Walz and Peggy Flannagan, economic expansion means equity, inclusion and fixing systemic problems in our state. Only three people on the fifteen-member council currently work in a for-profit business: Scott Burns of Structural (a software company), Brett Carter of Xcel Energy and Traci Tapani at Wyoming Machine.

The rest represent unions, nonprofits, government, equity organizations and foundations. In other words, they look like every other Walz/Flannagan commission. Check all the boxes!

  • Jeff Ettinger, Former Chairman of the Board and CEO, Hormel Foods (Co-Chair) 
  • Paul Williams, President and CEO, Project for Pride in Living (Co-Chair) 
  • Joe Fowler, President, Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council
  • Jodi Hubler, Vice Chair, Medical Alley Board of Directors
  • Brenda Hilbrich, Executive Vice President, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota
  • Neel Kashkari, President and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
  • Marcus Owens, Executive Director, African American Leadership Forum
  • Tuleah Palmer, President and CEO, Blandin Foundation
  • Joo Hee Pomplun, Executive Director, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability
  • Nonoko Sato, Executive Director, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits
  • Bharti Wahi, Executive Director, Children’s Defense Fund – Minnesota
  • Penny Wheeler, CEO, Allina Health

The makeup of the council and the press release announcing the commission tell us all we need to know about their future work product.

“As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and look toward the future, we must take bold action to build back Minnesota’s economy stronger than before, with people—our strongest asset—at the center of the blueprint,” said Governor Walz. “The Council on Economic Expansion brings together the brightest minds in Minnesota to create a strong economic future that includes every Minnesotan. I am grateful to each of these leaders, and I look forward to their work on this Council.”

Bold action, people at the center of the blueprint, include every Minnesotan. Who could disagree with that?

“Minnesota is home to some of the best and brightest leaders in the world,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “By working together, we can solve some of the greatest challenges facing our economy today—from ensuring access to child care and health care, to building pathways to success for every single Minnesotan.”

Flannagan thinks the greatest challenges to our economy are access to childcare and healthcare. So, is that what the council will focus on? Maybe. Here’s the money quote from the press release:

The Council will first identify immediate actions, potential policy changes, and recommendations to leverage remaining American Rescue Plan funding to advance equitable economic growth. The group will then focus on developing a long-term roadmap to achieve a more equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient Minnesota through public, private, and nonprofit systemic change.

They’re going to spend the remaining federal money from the American Rescue Plan to advance “equitable” economic growth “to achieve a more equitable, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient Minnesota through public, private, and nonprofit systemic change.” Equitable is such an important concept they had to name it twice in the same paragraph. But what does that look like and how will they guarantee it in the future economy? The other important words here are “systemic change.” Perhaps this council will identify changes we need to make to the “system” to make things more equitable. Most systems in Minnesota, by the way, have been run by Democrats for the last 50 years.

According to their quotes, appointees are very eager to begin this important equity and inclusion work:

 “I’m excited to dig into this work to make our state more equitable and strong…”

“Let’s build an inclusive and sustainable future…”

“…presents a prominent opportunity to emerge stronger than before with equity”

“… to offer recommendations aimed at supporting a brighter, more inclusive economic future for all Minnesotans”

Prediction: the Walz Council on Economic Expansion will include recommendations for a third round of massive new spending for equity grants aimed at nonprofit groups in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Equity grants started with Gov. Mark Dayton in 2016 and have been included in some form in each of the last two state budgets.

Before we go down this path again, the Minnesota Legislative Auditor should evaluate the effectiveness of this approach and make sure the millions we’ve already spent are actually accomplishing the stated goals.