Since taking office in 2015, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has made it his mission to keep in touch with the people of the state.
Each year he has gone on an 87 county tour stopping in different locations to talk about everything from elections to business. Simon made his fourth visit to Redwood Falls May 29, and during that visit he met with local community, business and government leaders to talk about new initiatives and the overall business outlook for the state.
“When people think of the Secretary of State’s office, they typically think about elections,” said Simon, adding, however, the most significant aspect of the office has more to do with business and filings across the state.
In many ways, said Simon, the Office of Secretary of State serves as the “welcome mat” as it relates to business for the State of Minnesota.
Simon, whose first term as Secretary of State comes to an end this year, said he has learned a lot over the first four years in office, especially as he has had the opportunity to visit face to face with people who are impacted by the decisions his office makes.
One of the newer initiatives being offered through Simon’s office is a business demographics report being prepared through a joint effort with St. Cloud State University. The information is disseminated four times a year and offers an indication of the state of business in Minnesota – breaking down the information by region.
Yet, added Simon, the desire was to take that information being gathered and make it even more useful for the public, which is why more demographic information is now being sought. When businesses file in Minnesota, which is required on a regular basis for those that are new and those already existing, those filing applications now also include five questions that ask more about the business and its make-up.
“When a survey is conducted most people say getting 5 percent of the people to respond is doing well, and 10 percent is great,” said Simon. “We have had over 40 percent of businesses respond to the survey.”
No one is required to provide the demographic information being requested, added Simon, and for a nominal fee all of the information can be accessed by businesses that might be looking at trends when they are making decisions about their future.
While meeting with local leaders, Simon also took the opportunity to learn more about what has been taking place in Redwood Falls, as well as the challenges the community is currently facing.
Corey Theis, Redwood Falls mayor, said he has been amazed by the amount of business growth that has been taking place in the community, especially along Bridge Street.
While he said there is work to be done in the downtown area (something he said a lot of communities seem to be facing), what is occurring along the Main Street through town has become contagious.
“Things have really taken off in the community in the past few years,” said Theis.
Anne Johnson, the Redwood Area Chamber and Tourism executive director, reiterated that fact.
“There is great stuff going on here,” she said, pointing to a recent day when the community celebrated the groundbreaking of a new career development and training center connected to the local school district, talked about the future of manufacturing and heard more about the healthcare transition that is taking place. “All of that happened in one day.”
Johnson, and others, called Redwood Falls a progressive community, and Johnson added when there is a need people gather together and get it done.
Yes, said Johnson, the same issues of childcare and housing continue to be a concern in the Redwood area, as they are across the state and nation.
Yet, she is confident in the end the creative people who call this community home will come up with a solution.
Simon congratulated the city for its progressive mentality.
“There are a lot of other places similar in size to Redwood Falls who are not doing what you have been able to do,” he said.
The reason for the successes in the area, added Johnson, stems from the fact that people really care about their community, adding while it may sound a bit cliche people in Redwood Falls really do know each other by name.
While Simon was focused on the business world in the conversations around the tables at the Redwood Falls library that Tuesday afternoon, his time is also being taken up with the upcoming election.
Simon said he feels pretty good at this point about the coming elections and the preparation for it. Yet, he also expressed disappointment with the potential that existed that has been shelved because of inaction on the part of the Minnesota legislature.
Simon said following the 2016 general election he learned Minnesota had been targeted for a cyber attack. That attack never came to fruition, but Simon said it opened the eyes of a lot of people to the realities of the day.
Although nothing happened, Simon said the best option for the state is to put additional measures in place to ensure that the election system in the state is not breached. Funding became available from the federal level to help with that issue, and Simon said all the legislature had to do was approve a statement accepting the funds for use.
The problem, he added, was that the approval, which had strong bipartisan support, was part of a larger, more controversial bill that ended up getting vetoed.
While the funding remains available in the future, Simon said it will not be accessible for the 2018 election. Simon continues on his tour across the state, adding if he continues in the office after the election he fully intends to continue making those visits statewide.
That means he will make plans to come back to Redwood Falls again in the not-too-distant future.