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Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. (To contribute, click here.) This article is a response to Star Tribune Opinion's June 4 call for submissions on the question: "Where does Minnesota go from here?" Read the full collection of responses here.


How does Minnesota's economy grow? Three ingredients are critical: innovators, entrepreneurs and workers. The innovator creates new products or services, the entrepreneur turns innovations into business plans and the workers make those plans reality. Whether the process is done by one person or 100, all three ingredients are required. All three depend on people. We are our economic engine. No exceptions.

Every successful Minnesota business has these three ingredients. Pick one. Any one: Target, Medtronic, Marvin Windows, Mayo Clinic. You name it. Their essence, planning and success is built on people.

That's the rub. Minnesota is critically short on people, especially those folks necessary to create and build a business.

What do we do? Short of waiting about 18 years for children born today to become part of our economic engine, our only option is to grow migration to Minnesota by people of economic engine age.

There are two kinds of migration: domestic and international. Minnesota is a net loser for the former and a net gainer for the latter.

A significant share of our children leave the state for school or work, never to return, except to visit grandma and grandpa. Meanwhile, children raised elsewhere don't choose to be Minnesotans often enough to make up for our kids' exodus.

The international migration, aka immigration, picture is much brighter and far more promising. Our recent net population growth is due entirely to immigrants. These new Americans are overwhelmingly of age and disposition to be part of our economic engine. They are innovators, responsible for a disproportionate share of U.S. patents. They are entrepreneurial, more likely to start a business than their native-born counterparts. They are reliable workers with broad skill sets. In every respect, they are a great fit with Minnesota's homegrown economy.

Gov. Tim Walz and the 2023 Legislature tried to make Minnesota a more attractive place to live and work. Paid family and sick leave is one example of what they think will work. Policy like this could also turn domestic migration from negative to positive. That's a long shot and should not be counted on to fuel our economic engine.

The 2023 session may have also helped to keep international migration in the black. Legislation allowing unauthorized immigrants to get driver's licenses makes our state more welcoming. How much so, only time will tell.

The real key to advancing international migration and Minnesota's economy sits in Washington. Who and how many immigrants arrive is overwhelmingly a function of federal law, which is badly out of date. President Ronald Reagan and the Democrat-led Congress did the last major update in 1986. Sadly, President Joe Biden and current congressional leaders appear in no hurry to do another bipartisan overhaul despite these facts:

  1. Our economic engine needs people.
  2. Competing nations like Canada, South Korea and Germany already have policies to attract innovators, entrepreneurs and skilled workers from around the world.
  3. A majority of U.S. voters support critical changes to our immigration system like a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants who were brought here as children (aka Dreamers); more refugee resettlement; increases in worker visas for several industries, including agriculture and computing technology; and enhanced border security.
  4. The opposition is relatively small but loud, getting disproportionate attention because of its perceived political threat.

There is hope. In May, U.S. Rep María Salazar, R-Fla., introduced legislation that addresses all the items listed above. Her Dignity Act has 11 original cosponsors: Five Republicans and six Democrats. None from Minnesota. These 12 representatives understand our economic engine. They know that immigration is the only timely and practical way to give it the people necessary for change and growth.

They need help. Minnesota's congressional delegation should be all in. Our demographics and homegrown economy make immigration reform imperative. Our members are respected and hold House and Senate leadership positions. They have both reason and ability to put legislation like the Dignity Act on President Biden's desk now.

People drive our economic engine. Early 20th-century immigrants and their children were the innovators, entrepreneurs and workers behind Minnesota's diverse, statewide economic growth. Twenty-first century immigrants and their children will do the same. Immigration reform is the only prerequisite. Washington must act now before our engine's tank runs dry.

Bill Blazar, of Minneapolis, retired in 2018 as senior vice president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. The views expressed here are his own.