Collaborations run on trust, and collaboration is the key to the scale, speed and innovation the Minneapolis-St. Paul region needs to compete in the global economy. This region has the potential to lead the world in solving the global challenges of the 21st century, including abundant food, healthy lives and clean water. The Greater MSP regional economic-development partnership was created eight years ago to help realize that potential.
Today, more than 200 organizations and 2,000 leaders are implementing a shared regional growth strategy through the partnership. Companies (large and small), cities, counties, foundations and universities are executing projects to strengthen the region’s position on talent, innovation, inclusion, regional brand and other priority areas. We are also driving job growth by competing nationally and internationally for business retention, expansion and attraction projects. To date, the partnership has closed 167 projects in cities across the region.
No business investment project has generated more interest than the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters, announced publicly in September 2017. The project that became known as “HQ2” was one of the largest economic-development contests in the country’s history. The typically quiet work of courting a client and assembling a project submission instantly became front-page news.
The invitation to tell our best story to Amazon sparked an outpouring of ideas and involved more partners than any business investment effort in this region had before. Greater MSP coordinated the process and submitted the region’s bid to Amazon in October 2017.
Public attention around HQ2 led to fair questions about what Amazon was being offered. While attempts were made to respond to those questions, the full proposal was not shared publicly due to confidentiality agreements with the client, consistent with internal policy.
Real-world experience has shown how both transparency and confidentiality are essential in an effective economic-development partnership. Transparency builds trust, which is required to do anything at a regional scale. Perhaps less obviously, confidentiality matters because it leads to economic opportunity for thousands of individuals and families.
Deals closed by the Greater MSP partnership between 2012 and 2018 injected more than $3.5 billion in new capital investment into the region. Those dollars created tens of thousands of small-business jobs in construction, transportation and professional services. These projects also directly produced more than 25,000 jobs with salaries over $50,000. Residents of our region are doing those jobs today — building their careers, paying mortgages and sending children to college.
Confidentiality and transparency are both essential, but sometimes they collide. Several months after our region’s HQ2 proposal was submitted, Public Record Media (PRM) filed a lawsuit against Greater MSP and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) seeking the proposal. The case went to Ramsey County District Court, which agreed with Greater MSP by ruling that a 501(c)(3) nonprofit is permitted to keep client information private. But as is its right, PRM appealed the court’s decision in early March, and a new phase of the legal process is about to get underway.
Since the decision to go to court in 2018, important facts have changed. Amazon awarded HQ2 in parts to Virginia and Nashville. Many other regions have made their HQ2 proposals public, and Amazon recently confirmed to Greater MSP that it will not oppose disclosure of the Minneapolis-St. Paul submission at this time. As a result, the Greater MSP board and senior staff took a step back.
In light of those facts and after thoughtful consideration, Greater MSP is choosing to take a new approach. On May 6, it will disclose the Amazon HQ2 project submission in its entirety to the Department of Employment and Economic Development. We expect the proposal to be publicly available this week and invite you to take a look.
Client consent makes this change possible. Greater MSP is confident that this is the right decision for our regional partnership, and for the region as a whole. The decision to defend against disclosure in 2018 was motivated by a need to preserve the trust of current and future business clients in order to create economic opportunity for residents. The decision now to disclose the proposal is motivated by something equally important — the trust of the region.
Peter Frosch is president and CEO of Greater MSP.