Five by 8 – 5/21/10: Business-friendly the drug cartel way

First, two things:

(a)We’re having an open house on Sunday to say “thanks” to MPR members. Will we see you there?

(b) I’m looking to talk to small business owners in Minnesota who employ members of the Minnesota National Guard. I’m thinking there’s a story to tell and you can help me tell it. Contact me.

1) Polaris is closing its factory in Osceola, Wisconsin, cutting 500 jobs. Some of the work will be shifted to a plant in Roseau, some to Iowa and some to a new plant the company is building in Monterrey, Mexico. This will, presumably, reignite the debate over whether Minnesota (and Wisconsin) is business-friendly enough to keep jobs like this. But how can U.S. states compete with the lower labor costs of Mexico? Perhaps an unrelated blog post in the Los Angeles Times this week provides a clue. Maybe the answer is pointing out that Minnesota isn’t Mexico.

Now, however, as drug-trafficking syndicates expand their reach across Mexico, they have brought even Monterrey to its knees.

And as authorities lose control, the business elite is worried, ordinary residents panicked.

“The tradition of a tranquil Monterrey has ended,” said Gilberto Marcos, a textile manufacturer who belongs to a citizens board that advises the state on security issues.

“And if Monterrey is lost, everything is lost.”

Monterrey is perhaps paying the price for tolerating the presence of traffickers for so many years, allowing them to fester and grow amid the shared wealth.

“For two decades, our deliberate ignorance and our indolence have made us de facto collaborators” with organized crime, said Father Rogelio Narvaez, head priest in the struggling Our Lady of the Rosary parish. “Legality and the social fabric are in crisis…. It is easier to get guns than a scholarship.”

OK, so it ain’t Roseau.

Drug gangs blocked off city streets recently. They’ve kidnapped people from businesses, killed engineering students, and so far this year nearly 200 people have been killed.

Bloomberg reported this week that executives in Monterey have a new expense: hiring extra security to keep from getting killed or kidnapped:

Drug-trafficker turf wars and kidnapping gangs have elevated the cost of doing business and hurt Mexico’s ability to attract foreign investment, Canales said. More private security isn’t going to solve the problem and the government has to ensure citizens’ safety as its most basic function, he said.

Minnesota can’t compete with that?

The company says its Mexico plant will help improve delivery because many customers are in the south and should provide significant savings in logistical and production costs.

From the Times report, its sounds as though businesses will have to factor in the additional cost of doing business in a developing hellhole.

But back to our workers for a moment. We got this e-mail from a reader last night:

Polaris shutting down will not only be “tough” for the individuals affected, it will completely devastate hundreds of families those sole income came from Polaris. I got a call from my Dad tonight who has been an employee of Polaris for 25 years. My Dad and my Step mother both work at Polaris and have for decades. They have four children, my sister and I are both in college and my little brother just got braces. The saddest part is that there are so many families in even worse situations than my family, at least they have their house paid off. I am deeply saddened by the news and am worried for my Dad who does not even have a high school diploma. What will he do now? I hope the media will aid in giving a voice to the employees at Polaris, and help relieve some of their suffering.

2) Nitpicking with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota’s annual list of the 10 Most Endangered Places in Minnesota but, assuming nothing much changes from year to year to save them, shouldn’t some of the same places appear on this year’s list that appeared on previous year’s lists?

Of course, things do change for some sites. The Rock Island Swing Bridge in Newport was on last year’s list.


Most of it has been demolished.

Here’s this year’s list. Included in this year’s list is the Cottage View drive-in theater in Cottage Grove. How do you save a drive-in? It’s just a big billboard. It’s difficult to keep these things operating; it’s only open weekends now and in the dead of summer you can’t start the show until after 10 p.m. Of what actual value is a field with a billboard stuck in the middle of it if it’s not an operating theater?


(Photo from Minnesota

3) The best show in town — any town — are comments attached to newspaper stories. The Rochester Post Bulletin today profiles the retirement of Dave Rikhus from the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office after 28 years of work. He’s known around town, apparently, for being a great cop and a master at getting the perps to confess to their misdeeds.

In retirement, the lifetime officer and Babbitt, Minn., native plans to spend time at his cabin in the Wabasha area and also with his 22-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter.

He lost his wife in 2006 to breast cancer, which has caused him to take a longer look at spending time with family.

“Life is so short,” Rikhus said. “You have to take time to enjoy it.”

OK, newspaper commenters, your turn:

This is why were are going broke… retiring at 54! give me a break, glad all of us tax payers will be paying for him to sit around for the next 40 years!

4) Sen. Satveer Chaudhary went up to Fish Lake last night to talk to his neighbors, who are upset that he snuck a provision in a bill late at night last weekend that changes the fishing regulations on the lake where he has a cabin. The Duluth News Tribune reports:

“I screwed up really, really badly,” said Chaudhary, who lives in Fridley, Minn., and owns a home on Fish Lake.

He said he had been given incorrect information about public support for special walleye regulations on the lake, but he neglected to blame anyone who gave him that information.

“I got erroneous information, but I should have known better,” he said. “The buck’s gotta stop with me.”

It’s a little more complicated than not checking with the neighbors first, however. It’s whether a state legislator should be slipping changes in fishing regulations on one lake, a lake where he has a vested interest.

Republicans at the Capitol want an ethics investigation. Chaudhary says he did nothing ethically wrong.

Was it ethical for a Minnesota lawmaker to use his position to change fishing regulations on a lake on which he owns a cabin?online surveys

5) Did someone say fishing? This video has been on our Web site for about a week, and I haven’t noticed it until now.

The meaning is in the eye of the beholder, but here’s my takeaway: I’m not going to work today to sort leeches.


Is President Obama’s foreign policy hurting us abroad?


We will have an MPR News Cut Quiz by mid-afternoon.

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: The Gulf oil spill.

Second hour: Author Tim O’Brien pursues a truth in his fiction that is only somewhat based on what he experienced as a soldier in Vietnam. But the resonance of his work, particularly “The Things They Carried” has convinced people that the characters in his stories are drawn more precisely from life.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: MPR political commentators Todd Rapp, Maureen Shaver and Jack Uldrich jdiscuss Gov. Pawlenty and the 2010 Legislature,

Second hour: A debate from NPR’s “Intelligence Squared” series on President Obama’s foreign policy.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – It’s Science Friday. First hour: Thee latest in stem cell research news. Plus, a talk with genome pioneer Craig Venter on creating a synthetic


Second hour: Your privacy online. Can you have a Facebook profile and protect your privacy?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – MPR’s Chris Roberts profiles a group of 12 ‘Gen Y’ yarn spinners who are updating the ancient art of storytelling. They perform at the Bryant Lake Bowl this Sunday.

Two electric plants on the Iron Range are replacing some of the coal they burn with wood. The project is the result of a state requirement that Xcel Energy produce electricity from biomass, to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. It was also hailed as a way to save jobs in the struggling northern Minnesota forest industry. But there are worries about the project’s effect on wood supply for traditional uses and on soil health. It may also be hard for loggers to make a living bringing in low-value fuel wood. MPR’s Stephanie Hemphill will have the story.

Regina Carter is a world-renowned jazz violinist and a Macarthur fellow. But her jazz career wasn’t always celebrated. Carter’s first teacher thought she was ruining her career. Her mother was outraged. Now, she turns to the folk music of Africa. NPR will have the story.