Policy

Will BioBusiness Alliance get some love from Minnesota GOP?

Dale Wahlstrom is an optimistic guy. But budget-cutting Republicans poised to control the House and Senate, and possibly the governor’s office next year may test the optimism of the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota CEO.

Dale Wahlstrom is an optimistic guy.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

When you’re CEO of the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota (BBAM), an economic development organization that perpetually depends on state money, optimism is less a natural trait than a requirement for the job.

“I have to be optimistic,” said Wahlstrom who will also lead LifeScience Alley.

In 2010, BBAM received about $480,000 from Minnesota taxpayers, or about 37 percent of its annual budget of $1.3 million. But that money never comes easy. Every year, BBAM seems to fight, claw, scrap for every state penny in its budget– and that with friendly Democratic lawmakers controlling at least half of the legislature.

With budget-cutting Republicans poised to control the House and Senate, and possibly the governor’s office next year, there’s no reason to believe that BBAM’s financial woes are going to get better.

Which brings us to a much broader philosophical question: how do Republicans view broad economic development in Minnesota?

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Incoming House Speaker Kurt Zellers promises job growth will be the Minnesota GOP’s top priority. But judging from the Republicans’ public remarks so far, cutting taxes and regulations are the best remedies for the economy. The party seems to think private-led efforts — not government-funded economic development initiatives — will create jobs and companies.

So where does that leave groups like BBAM and the recently created Minnesota Science and Technology Authority? Odds are, the authority will receive minimal financial support from the state.

But Wahlstrom is a little more optimistic (of course he is!) about his own organization’s chances. Unlike the authority, BBAM can demonstrate a record to lawmakers.

The group claims it has helped create at least 800 jobs in Minnesota in recent years, although how BBAM calculates that number is a matter of open debate. BBAM has played crucial roles in luring San Francisco-based biotech investor Steve Burrill to Minnesota and facilitating technology transfer efforts among the state and Canada, Sweden and Japan.

While BBAM had more clout with Democratic lawmakers, the group also enjoys good relationships with the GOP, Wahlstrom said.

There’s also a big differences between campaigning and governing. The GOP may pontificate on cutting spending and taxes, but in the end, the party realizes that a mix of tax cuts and pro-active economic development  is key to a recovery, Wahlstrom said.

“You can’t cut your way to prosperity,” he said.

Only time will tell if Wahlstrom’s optimism is pragmatic or merely wishful thinking.