Extraordinary collaboration can rebuild Minnesota Miracle

  • Article by: BILL GEORGE
  • Updated: November 19, 2011 - 9:43 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton's jobs summit last month was a remarkable example of the extraordinary collaboration taking place between business leaders and government officials to rebuild Minnesota's jobs machine.

Historically, Minnesota has benefited from diverse industries including agriculture and food products, financial and professional services, health care, education, and high-technology manufacturing that allowed us to offset economic downturns. But after outpacing the nation for 30 years in job creation, Minnesota has fallen behind since 2003.

The 800 business and civic leaders who jammed into the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza in St. Paul engaged in serious discussions about how to stimulate job growth in Minnesota and re-create the Minnesota Miracle. This convergence of business and government leaders was a welcome contrast to the political gridlock that shut down state government in July.

At the summit the governor wasted no time in making his position clear: "It is the task of private enterprise to create jobs and wealth," he said. "The government's role is to create the environment and rules that make that possible." Dayton put substance behind his pledge, announcing a $100 million fund for small business loans, distributed through 300 Minnesota community banks.

These efforts are none too soon. Alarmed by declining job trends, a group of leading CEOs and civic leaders formed the Itasca Jobs Task Force in 2009. Chaired by Ken Powell of General Mills and Marilyn Carlson Nelson of Carlson Companies, their 2010 report highlighted three strategic initiatives to improve the region's competitiveness:

•Address the cost of doing business.

•Develop a vision, strategy, and approach for regional economic development.

•Enhance entrepreneurship and innovation.

To implement the report's recommendations, Itasca formed a team of 60 participants, chaired by HealthPartners CEO Mary Brainerd. "For us, this is the most important thing we have been part of,'' Brainerd said. "The commitment to a thriving community is really extraordinary."

In addition, the Minnesota Business Partnership, which includes the heads of 150 local companies, formed three task forces of its own under the leadership of Ecolab CEO Doug Baker Jr. The partnership made concrete recommendations to the governor and Legislature regarding fiscal policy, health care, and education.

Also last month, 12 large companies joined with local municipalities to launch Greater MSP, with Baker as its chairman. A $2 million budget was established, with 70 percent from the 12 companies and the remainder from government units. Its mission is to recruit out-of-state and international companies to locate in Minnesota and to encourage local companies to expand locally. Michael Langley was hired as executive director, coming from Pittsburgh, where he led a comparable initiative.

These remarkable efforts are a testament to the quality of Minnesota's leaders. Our state is blessed to be home to 20 Fortune 500 companies led by progressive leaders who understand that Minnesota's quality of life and a well-educated workforce are essential to their success -- and necessary to offset negatives like high taxes, high cost of living and weather.

Historically, Minnesota's strength has been the quality of its workforce. Thanks to efforts put in place 50 years ago, the Twin Cities leads the nation with 93 percent of citizens holding high school diplomas, and is third in bachelor's or graduate degrees with 37 percent. Ecolab's Baker notes, "Ultimately, the education and skills of the workforce are MSP's competitive advantages."

But this advantage appears to be at risk. The Itasca report forecast a gap by 2030 of 322,000 skilled workers that could constrain the region's growth. Bush Foundation President Peter Hutchinson notes that these other efforts will be in vain unless the region has the right workforce. He favors investments in infrastructure, K-12 schools, and higher education.

"It's a painful reality that many of the 215,000 Minnesotans without jobs don't have the education needed for the new economy,'' said Steven Rosenstone, the new chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU). "By 2018, 78 percent of Minnesota's jobs will require postsecondary education."

Minnesota has its challenges. But given the remarkably committed leaders we have today, I feel confident that these new initiatives will bear fruit and create the second Minnesota Miracle.

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