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Jul 7, 201503:45 PMOpen Mic

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Economic envy

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The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers haven't won Paul Bunyan's Axe from the University of Wisconsin Badgers in a decade. Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers have gone 9-1-1 versus the Minnesota Vikings since 2010.

Clearly, America's Dairyland enjoys football bragging rights over the North Star State. But which state boasts the stronger economy?

President Obama addressed that question during a visit to Wisconsin last week. In his mind comparing the Wisconsin and Minnesota economies discredits Republican Governor and presidential hopeful Scott Walker's reforms and promotes those pursued by progressive Democrats like him and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

The problem is that any history professor worth his or her salt will tell you it is far too early in Walker's tenure to determine how his pro-business reforms have impacted Wisconsin's long-term economic competitiveness. That is especially true when you consider that Walker's first term was marred by protests and a series of recall elections that delayed a lot of business decisions because of the uncertainty they created.

Even so, many indicators are bullish on Wisconsin's future economic prospects. For example, business optimism is sky high and many leading rankings on both business climate and economic outlook have shown dramatic improvement for Wisconsin since 2011 when Walker took office. Minnesota hasn't done nearly as well in many of those same rankings.

Still, Wisconsin does lag Minnesota in many economic metrics. Minnesota has more corporate headquarters, has higher per capita income, has a lower unemployment rate and its population is better educated. But all of the above was just as true when Wisconsin's governor was Democrat Jim Doyle and Minnesota's was Republican Tim Pawlenty.

As University of Minnesota Professor Roger Feidman recently wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota has been outperforming Wisconsin economically since at least the 1960s. Feidman cites many reasons for this, including Minnesota's diverse economy and the vitality of the Twin Cities.


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