One-day conference InvestMNt proves there's financial heft to Twin Cities

  • Article by: BRAD ALLEN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2014 - 5:29 PM

InvestMNt gathering turns the model of a traditional broker-sponsored conference on its head.

The IDS building in downtown Minneapolis, blocks from where InvestMNt 2014 will be held.

Photo: File photo by Marlin Levison • marlin.levison@startribune.com,

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A Wall Street version of speed dating is coming to the Twin Cities this week with a hot-dish twist.

Dubbed InvestMNt, the one-day conference organized by the Minnesota branch of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Society, will put executives from 60 (mostly) Upper Midwest companies in front of nearly 200 locally based institutional investors Wednesday at the University of St. Thomas’ downtown Minneapolis campus.

In its third year, the conference is the brainchild of Robert Buss and Tony Carideo, both former CFA chapter presidents, illustrating both the strength and diversity of the regional economy as well as the resurgence of the Twin Cities as a money center, after slipping a decade ago. Buss, who is a managing director at Minneapolis-based Disciplined Growth Investors, and Carideo, who heads his own consulting company, are most proud of the way InvestMNt turns the model of a traditional broker-sponsored conference on its head while taking a swipe at conflicts, both real and perceived, in the broker model.

Because attendees pay to participate, InvestMNt includes a wide range of companies and institutions, a mix of familiar names and many who would not be invited to traditional broker conferences, Buss and Carideo explain. By contrast, brokerage houses sponsor ‘‘free’’ conferences, typically held in the money centers such as New York or San Francisco, but limit attendance to the largest and most-active trading clients and companies with highly liquid stocks that generate lots of trading commissions or that have investment banking potential — hence the appearance of conflicts.

“It’s almost as if this conference was created for us,” said Mark Henneman, senior vice president and portfolio manager at St. Paul-based Mairs & Power, a $5 billion wealth manager and mutual fund company with a focus on Upper Midwest companies. The firm will be sending its entire nine-member investment team to the conference, he said, both to get “a quick-and-dirty update” on familiar companies and to kick the tires on new names.

The Upper Midwest presents an opportunity-rich field for investors, Henneman said, because the area boasts “a great cast of companies” and a mix of industries that would be hard to duplicate in most other regions.

A high reputation with savvy investors

Henneman also cites the work ethic, corporate culture and quality of life in the region that draw and keep high-achieving people in the region. The fact that executives can move from one company to another without leaving the area “creates an environment of success” benefiting the entire region, he adds. Finally, Henneman credits the key role played by the University of Minnesota’s research prowess, land grant legacy and central location, all of which benefit local companies.

Minnesota’s investment-rich reputation is known outside the region, drawing a handful of out-of-town investors to the conference as well, including Drew Wilson, equity analyst at Fennimore Asset Management in New York.

Wilson says the “abnormally high concentration” of quality companies and managements here makes the Twin Cities “unlike any other region” for investors. This will be his third year attending and has convinced colleagues from firms Florida, Wisconsin and Nebraska to join him.

Both the Twin Cities’ size and reputation for savvy investors are similarly draws for companies from California, Colorado, Florida, New England and North Carolina. Attending the CFA-organized event makes sense for Pike Electric, explains Frank Milano, who heads investor communication for the $825 million electric utility service company in North Carolina.

“We try to come to Minneapolis every 12 to 18 months,” he says. Since Pike is not invited to the few broker conferences held here, InvestMNt provides his company the only opportunity to meet the entire Twin Cities financial community in an efficient way.

While bringing more out-of-town companies and investors would position InvestMNt as a truly national conference, Buss said, he and Carideo are pleased with how far it has come in its first three years. The conference signals to the rest of the country Minneapolis/St. Paul’s heft as a financial center.

“It says we’re still here,” Carideo said.

“And we still matter,” Buss added.

Brad Allen is a Minneapolis freelance journalist and former investor relations executive for companies including Imation Corp. and Cray Research. His column appears ­monthly. His e-mail is brad@bdallen.com.

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