Greater modesty aside, we're a catch for any new business

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 13, 2011 - 9:18 PM

Aside from that patch in February when winter scrapes your soul like a cheese grater on the gums, this is a marvelous place to live.

Why isn't this more widely accepted? Why don't more businesses flock to the Twin Cities?

Modesty.

A group called Greater MSP has unveiled a new campaign to convince businesses to move here. They're spending almost $3 million on the effort, with 30 percent coming from taxpayers. Sure! In these fat and happy times, slosh a little their way. What's the harm?

But this quote from a Greater member stuck out: "We've got to get this region off the best-kept-secret list."

Hmmm. When you enter Minneapolis into Google, it doesn't return the words "promise not to tell?" We don't find blabbermouthing boosters in the trunk of a car because they squealed about Minneapolis. Honest, boss, I didn't tell them anything! Just where it was on the map! I didn't talk about our extensive park system or literate population, I swear!

We're not a secret. Everyone knows where we are. Everyone has the same basic idea: igloos, Twins, Vikings, Garrison Keillor throwing his cap on Nicollet Mall, and so on. Perhaps it would help if we painted enormous concentric red circles around the metro so the Google views match the Target logo; people might associate us with a Dynamic, Go-Getter business climate. But there are those who suspect Target is still here only because city leaders burst into tears every time they start talking about moving to Lotax, Texas. "We'll change! Swear it's for real this time!" and so on. Target sticks around, but once the kids are in college, well, time for a talk.

It's hard to say what motivates a company to move to a city, but the quantity of theater or the miles of bike trails aren't as important as you might suspect. That's just the stuff they tell the staff when the relocation is announced, and it's the equivalent of telling your kid you're moving to another city but you'll make lots of friends!

Companies move because it makes economic sense.

Sure, you could put out brochures that tout our competitive advantages:

• You won't die from all that other stuff they have in bigger cities, like crime and tuberculosis. ...

• No, you can't get Thai at 3 a.m. like New York, but you should be in bed anyway. You're going to get run-down and catch something. ...

• The plays you never get around to seeing here are better than the plays you never get around to seeing where you are now.

But it's not enough. Mind you, once they're here, they'll love it, because this is a lovely, civil place, considering it's populated by ... what's the word? Humans. That's it.

The whole campaign just seems a bit needy, that's all.

What did we all learn from dating? Nothing puts people off like desperation, unless it's some Hugh Grant romantic comedy, and then it's charming and dashing.

If we sound too desperate, companies might think that the sound of noontime bells at City Hall is our biological clock going off, and unless we have a new corporation SOON we're going to have to adopt one from Russia. No, we need to play hard to get.

When someone calls to see about relocating, we say we're busy washing our hair -- but then to keep 'em on the hook, we have a friend, like Brooklyn Center, tell the company we really think they're cute. The next step? Say yes to a meeting, but only to make a larger company jealous.

It would be great to have EnormoCorps set up downtown and build a shiny tower, even if it changed its name to Vaguenzia or Accetualia or Preconalia after six years, and declared a $12 million loss because it had to change the signs and the logo on the memo pads. But then, big companies tend to lay off people in numbers usually reserved for Civil War casualty figures, and that's always depressing.

Good luck to the Greater MSP group, but don't forget the small businesses. The start-ups. The Mom and Pops. The little storefronts that give a neighborhood its character. Or give the public money back to the public, so it can support the businesses already here.

It's a modest idea, but we're a modest people. ...

Sorry, that's not helpful. We need to change that image.

WE ARE THE BEST PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRY AT BEING MODEST! Like that.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

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