Minnesota: The land of 10,000 ideas

  • Article by: DOUG SPONG
  • Updated: December 25, 2011 - 3:34 PM

Count the state's creative economy, nurtured and fostered by locally based Fortune 500 companies, as a key competitive advantage.


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There's an identity crisis in Minnesota these days. Aside from being the nation's cold spot during the winter months, what should America think of Minnesota? A recent article in the Star Tribune suggested that Minnesota reframe its reputation to become the nation's technology corridor.

I'm going to crawl out on a limb here and proclaim that that title already belongs to a few other states. We're no Silicon Valley.

If you want to define Minnesota's brand position -- something that's different, meaningful and ownable -- I suggest you look at what we're great at doing. Perhaps you could say we are Medical Alley by having incubated device giants Medtronic and St. Jude Medical. Or you could make a case for feeding the world with food giants Cargill and General Mills. You could even boast about being the home to Target, Best Buy and Supervalu, three of the six largest U.S. retailers.

There's another industry that's even bigger and brings more national notoriety to our state's brand reputation than these three categories: Minnesota's creative economy.

Tens of thousands of Minnesotans identify their labor of love as something to do with our creative economy. More than 5,500 educated, well-compensated professionals work for hundreds of advertising agencies, public relations firms, digital agencies and design shops. Another 44,000 or so work in support of these firms, including freelance writers, art directors, designers, illustrators, photographers, film editors, digital animators, website programmers, printers, media planners/buyers, social media specialists, experiential marketers, direct marketers, and so on.

When I moved to this state in the early 1980s, many of America's best creative minds were migrating to and congregating in Minnesota -- specifically Minneapolis. Although a number of creative professionals hated the title at the time, the style of work that was exported from our state in the 1980s was dubbed "Minneapolis Cute."

Even today, some of the biggest-spending and most-sought-after clients in the country bring their creative needs to town. The mother of all clients in advertising is automotive, given the size of the spend and the competitive nature of succeeding in the cut-throat auto industry. Two of the most-envied automotive brands -- Detroit-based Cadillac and Subaru of America in Cherry Hill, N.J. -- spend $500 million combined with Minneapolis ad agencies Fallon and Carmichael Lynch, respectively.

Along with their budgets, clients like these bring national acclaim to Minneapolis. For instance, Carmichael Lynch's work for Subaru recently earned an Emmy nomination as one of the six best commercials -- out of the thousands of TV spots produced nationally.

So what is it about Minneapolis that attracts such a talented, vibrant creative community? Four things make our state (and, in particular, the city of Minneapolis) a destination of choice for creative minds:

Our business community has fostered a healthy creative economy. Many of the state's best creative agencies grew from nothing, thanks to the care and feeding by a dozen locally based Fortune 500 companies.

Our support of the arts ranks second to none for the size of our market. Foundations, corporations and individuals give generously to fund world-class performing and visual arts organizations. According to the Minnesota Arts Board, 20,000 fine artists make their living in our state.

Our education system helps Minnesota attract creative thinkers. Our students score among the top states in standardized testing scores such as ACT and SAT, and rank among the best in high school graduation rates and college enrollment.

The Minnesota lifestyle -- there's something special about living here that appeals to professionals in today's creative economy. Several Minnesota cities, including the Twin Cities, rank among the best places to live. These rankings always mention our appreciation and love for the great outdoors.

There's also a social and civic environment that makes Minnesota a great place to live and work. Regardless of your personal politics, Minnesota has a strong tradition of social activism. This "pull to the left" has fostered a healthy environment of tolerance for many points of view and inclusiveness for diverse ethnic cultures, sexual orientations and religious beliefs. Show me a city or state that doesn't value tolerance and inclusion, and I'll show you a community void of a vibrant creative population.

The next time you're traveling and someone asks you what it's like to live in Minnesota, be a brand ambassador for the state. Talk about our robust creative economy. Mention the high number of world-class professionals who create and produce some of America's best fine arts and commercial creative work.

And whatever you do, resist the temptation to talk about our chilly weather.


    Doug Spong is the president of Carmichael Lynch, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012. His e-mail is doug.spong@clynch.com.

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