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Mixed bag: Minn. businesses, employees react to Obama's re-election

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Don Taragos, WorkForce Development Representative, talks with Tim Topitzhofer of Minneapolis, Minn. about Topitzhofer's job search at the Minnesota WorkForce Center in Minneapolis, Minn. in a file photo.
MPR File Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Consumers and businesses alike have been jittery about spending cash. The result is weak economic activity and tepid job growth.

Confidence in the economy among some Minnesota employers is still wavering in the wake of the election.

  On the surface, the mood was effusive at a job fair on Wednesday hosted by the nonprofit group HIRED in St. Louis Park. A dozen or so employers gave upbeat speeches about open positions, and a crowd of impeccably dressed and eager-looking applicants beamed in response.

The human resources executive of a large-scale bakery, Jayne Cavins of Legendary Baking, sounded particularly optimistic about the future. She said her company will be hiring in several areas, including IT.

"We're hopefully hiring someone who can add a few more days to the week, if you have that kind of skill, because we have actually too much work to get done," Cavins said. "If you're looking for stability, it's in pies."

  But some of the good cheer deflated when talk of the election came up.

"We certainly, as employers, have an opinion about that -- that things will not improve soon," said Josephine Simmons, director of human resources at SatCom Marketing, which does telemarketing for the cable television industry.

"Employers have done with less for so long they're not only comfortable with it, they prefer it."

Even though SatCom is hiring, Simmons said that overall, President Barack Obama's reelection will not inspire employers, who retrenched during his first term to take on more workers.

Simmons said the federal election yielded more of the same politically, and the same will hold true economically.

"Employers have done with less for so long they're not only comfortable with it, they prefer it," Simmons said. "It helps their profit margins."

What won't help profit margins is the threat of budget cuts and tax hikes known as the "fiscal cliff," set to take effect in January. Since Democrats still control the White House and Senate and Republicans still control the House, it's essentially the same players tackling the same budget problems, possibly with no new ideas.

But in southwestern Minnesota, attorney John Engels, was less worried about those intractable federal problems and more concerned with how the balance of power shifted in the state.

"I'm concerned about the DFL taking over the legislature," he said.

Engels associates the Democrats with stiffer regulations and higher taxes. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has indeed pledged to raise taxes on top earners. And it will be much easier for him to do so with his party running the state House and Senate.

Engels said higher taxes and greater regulation are bad for all businesses in Minnesota. But he thinks they will deal an especially harsh blow to areas like his, which neighbors South Dakota.

"I just think we'll see it more starkly here because people can go 15 miles and not pay income tax or not pay large application fees or get their project approved much more quickly than they can in this state," Engels said.

  But back at the job fair in St. Louis Park, there was some acknowledgment that Obama's re-election will fuel some job growth.

Shellie Irwin Sullivan, a recruiter for the software quality control company, Swat Solutions, said the president's Affordable Care Act is driving growth in jobs tied to medical coding — translating diagnoses and procedures into billing codes.

"I do see a rush in medical and insurance getting their ICD-9 and 10 coding upgraded, because that's how you communicate for payment through Medicare, so there's probably going to be a big push in that area," she said.

Sullivan said she has seen business picking up over the past few years and is even seeing some work return from overseas.

That's the kind of thing that's top of mind for Lisa Primm, one of the jobseekers at the fair. When Primm heard Obama won the election, her optimism about her own job prospects shot up. She has lost two jobs to outsourcing.

"I was really looking at supporting a candidate that would keep jobs in the U.S. instead of moving things out like a lot of corporations have," Primm said.

But if pessimism among lots of business owners persists following the election it's unclear when unemployed workers like Primm will be better off.


Follow Annie Baxter on Twitter: http://twitter.com/baxtermpr