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Business leaders focus on success in schools, community priorities

Date Published: 10/14/2009

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Times are tough in the world of commerce these days but the Minnesota Business Partnership put on an uplifting and clever show Tuesday night, highlighted by a very funny Twitterfest orchestrated by partnership director Charlie Weaver. The fictitious tweets that flashed up on the big screen were inspired, including the one ascribed to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, under the name "veer2right'', in a reference to his presidential prospecting.  

Our favorite part, though, was the recognition afforded to two outstanding public schools, King Elementary in Deer River, and Dayton's Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary in St. Paul, for their progress on student achievement. The videos celebrating and explaining their success should be up soon on the partnership website. (The Partnership is comprised of the CEOs of Minnesota's 100 largest companies and obviously is a major player in policy matters.)

Qwest CEO John Stanoch, a valued member of the Growth & Justice Board of Advisers, and a leader of the partnership's education policy team, pointed out in his presentations of $10,000 awards that both schools have high percentages of poor and minority students and that those conditions "do not have to be synonymous" with low test scores. The principals at each school talked about setting goals and focusing constructive and energetic attention on the students and parents who need help.   

The evening's speakers were focused on community building, with relatively little of the dissing of the public sector or tax rates that sometimes occurs in business gatherings. Even Gov. Tim Pawlenty's keynote address was notable for its rather harsh denunciation of private-sector irresponsibility and arrogance, epitomized by General Motors.  

Doug Baker, CEO of Ecolab, Inc., current chairman of the partnership, took aim at Minnesota's corporate income taxes as a problem, and we agree that those rates could come down as part of an overall revenue-positive tax system reform. But Baker's speech also accurately summarized Minnesota's great tradition of community-minded rather than self-interested business leadership, going back to the Dayton's department store decision a half-century ago to donate 5 percent of its profits to the community. Corporate foundations currently invest about a billion dollars a year in Minnesota, Baker said, "and there's a culture here of stewardship.''  

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