Rounding up business for Cities

  • Article by: JANET MOORE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 24, 2012 - 10:33 PM

The regional economic development authority is hard at work attracting capital investment and jobs.

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Michael Langley outside of the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul on Thursday March 15th, 2012. Michael Langley is the CEO of Greater MSP, a new economic development organization for the Twin Cities metro.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Michael Langley bristles a bit whenever someone calls his organization "new."

The CEO of Greater MSP, the Minneapolis-St. Paul regional economic development authority, declares, "We're up and running and we have been since October."

The former Navy fighter pilot and economic development guru goes on to say that Greater MSP has already had a hand in attracting $1 billion in new capital investment to the 13-county metro area, as well as 1,000 jobs.

Langley and his staff of 13 have an annual budget of $4 million and they're determined to attract even more business and jobs to the area. They're backed by a powerful board of local CEOs and other movers and shakers in the business community.

Here's what Langley, who came to the Twin Cities after a similar gig in Pittsburgh, has to say about the group's work -- so far.

QWhy do we need an organization like Greater MSP?

AA couple of years ago, research was done by the Itasca Project [a group of public and private-sector leaders] that showed clearly that we were the only major metropolitan region in the country that did not have a coordinated regional partnership approach to economic development for retention, expansion and attraction of businesses to the region. We were at a deficit. Existing organizations were doing a good job, but they were doing so separately and weren't as aligned as they could have been.

QDon't some of these areas in the metro compete against each other for new jobs and companies?

AThere's been a tremendous willingness to work together with a common goal of economic development for our region.

QWhat do out-of-state businesses interested in coming here tell you?

ABusiness leaders were telling us that if they were coming to this region, they had to deal with too many people, up to 50 different people, to get the answers they needed. They didn't know who to contact. They tell us that Minneapolis-St. Paul had not been on their radar screen because, frankly, no one was reaching out to them.

QAnd now?

ANow they can come to one source. It's much more efficient.

QYou mentioned the $1 billion in investment and 1,000 jobs. Could you be more specific?

AOur rollout was October, and we've had a dozen projects that have come to fruition. Some were already in the pipeline, and with the others, we were able to provide valuable information or help with coordination. In other cases we initiated the conversation between the companies to bring the investment to the region along with our partners. Prime Therapeutics is adding [300] jobs and Polaris is adding jobs. Also, Sanmar [Corp. in Shakopee.]

QWhat story about the Twin Cities' business community is not getting out?

AAs I travel nationally and around the world, I can tell you people are very interested in our story, but many don't know it. When you tell them we have 20 Fortune 500 headquarters here, they don't believe it until you list the companies like 3M, Target, General Mills.

QSo Greater MSP doesn't lobby, and you're not active politically. How do you expect to get anything done?

AWe're not an advocacy organization, but within our partnership, there are many advocacy organizations, including the chambers of commerce, the business partnership, the state chamber. Our job is to give them good information so they can continuously improve the public policy agenda. If we talk to 1,000 companies, they'll tell us every time what they like about the region and what is challenging to them. We want to make sure we collect that information and synthesize it in a way that our public policy partners can use to help create a stronger and more successful business climate.

QSo you don't lobby. They do?

AThat's correct. If we're over talking to public policymakers on a daily basis about the policies, then we're not out marketing the region to potential investors and job creators. That's where we need to focus.

QIsn't the rap on the Twin Cities and Minnesota that we have a high-tax, high-labor cost, and highly regulated economy?

AAll things are relative. Our region right now has a much more successful economy than many. Economies can be successful regardless of the type of infrastructure if the basics are in place. The basics are the education and workforce quality and quantity, the infrastructure, the innovation and entrepreneurial culture of the region and the willingness of the region to be inclusive and diverse. Those are the secrets to success. Notice I didn't say anything about the tax or regulatory environment. Because there are lots of different ways that things are taxed or regulated and they're going to be different from region to region.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752

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