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Businesses push Minnesota-made products

ST. PAUL -- A rash of consumer toy safety warnings may have parents closely reviewing their children's Christmas wish lists this year.

While local toy makers report the recall of hazardous toys made overseas has boosted their sales, other Minnesota businesses are hoping consumers look beyond toys and consider buying other gifts locally during the holiday shopping season.

They cite the positive local economic impact, product safety assurances and the attraction of picking a local merchant over a big-box retailer.

For every dollar spent at independent retailers in Minnesota, 68 cents is pumped into the local economy, according to a report released this week by Minnesota 2020, a St. Paul-based progressive research group. Sales made by large chain retailers only provide 43 cents on a dollar to the local economy.

Business owners featured at a recent Minnesota 2020 event said more sales would obviously help their bottom line, but also cause a ripple effect on the area economy. Dave George of Willmar-based Mr. B Chocolatier said he relies on local dairy for his company's chocolates.

"We try to support the other suppliers. Hopefully we get the support of customers in the local area," said George, adding buying from local merchants can lead to job growth in a community.

Bill Keitel of Worthingon-based Buffalo Billfold Co. said he sells buffalo leather products such as wallets, briefcases and purses around the country. The leather comes from buffalo raised in Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota.

"The thought of being able to sell regionally and locally is big," Keitel said.

Following a spate of Chinese-made toy recalls earlier this year, more buyers are concerned about product safety, said Jamie Seeley Kreisman, whose St. Paul-based wooden toy company Beka distributes to specialty shops around Minnesota and elsewhere.

"What we have felt over the last several months, really starting in August, is a tremendous increase in the number of inquires from small retailers who are really looking for domestic product," Kreisman said.

Small, independent retailers often can identify a product's origins, he said.

Just ahead of the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy, the US Public Interest Research Group unveiled its latest annual toy safety report, called "Trouble in Toyland." Product safety has improved in recent years, according to the report, but there still are toys on store shelves that can cause choking and pose other hazards.

Sara Bebeau, a campaign director for the consumer watchdog group, said toys should be safe regardless of where they are made.

"The standards should still apply to that too," Bebeau said of toys made locally.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has released its own list of toy-buying tips.

Dozens of toy recalls this year prompted Congress to look closer at product safety, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said pending legislation would address many concerns raised by the recalls.

Most of the high-profile toy recalls were of products made in China that contain toxic lead paint. Klobuchar said the number of toy recalls probably will not drop anytime soon.

However, she said, "there are still a lot of safe toys out there."

Most major retailers remove toys from the shelves if they are recalled for safety reasons, Klobuchar said, though there still is concern about consumers buying from small retailers, rummage sales or on the Internet.