With Elmo by her side, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development helped kick off a new manufacturing database Tuesday that aims to drum up business within the state.
Katie Clark Sieben unveiled the Made in Minnesota Directory, an online site that will help businesses find products such as textiles, machines, computers and electronics within the state. The database, which took six months to develop and includes 600 manufacturers, is the first of its kind and is expected to pump millions of dollars back into Minnesota's economy.
After all, "manufacturing supports 850,000 jobs or 33 percent of all jobs in Minnesota," said Clark Sieben, as she announced the new system at Minneapolis-based VEE Corp., which makes theater costumes and set designs for shows such as "Sesame Street Live."
The unusual venue was chosen because VEE participates in so many diverse forms of manufacturing, including electrical, textiles, plastic molding, lumber construction and metal fabrication, Clark Sieben said. "You can search by name or product or city or county," Clark Sieben said.
The free database, which is also being launched during Minnesota Manufacturers Week, is expected to build connections between local factories and "strengthen our local supply chain," Clark Sieben said. The state is starting with the names and data for 600 companies, but that is expected to grow as word spreads about the project.
Along with the new database, which can be found at www.tinyurl.com/MadeinMinnesotaDirectory, Clark Sieben introduced the state's new Made in Minnesota logo, which companies like VEE can use as a marketing tool.
"I think it's a great idea," said VEE costume designer Karissa Toutloff while fabricating legs for Telly, a Muppet character from "Sesame Street Live." The new database "will be good for the economy. Lots of people are wanting goods being made in the United States or Minnesota rather than overseas."
And it should help support jobs, said Clark Sieben as she roamed through the costume production shop. "It's absolutely amazing that 95 percent of all your costumes are made right here," she said.
Nearby, Molly Cacek and a clutch of women plucked apart yellow feather boas in search of just the right ones for Big Bird's costume. Behind them, Katie Manning stitched blue fur onto a mesh lining that would later morph into Cookie Monster. In a room next door Dominick Veldman drilled together parts of a transformer racing car costume, while two co-workers bolted together the shell that would become the head for the Sesame Street Muppet Grover.
VEE founder and CEO Vince Egan said he is still having fun with the business he created 34 years ago after buying the licensing rights for touring Sesame Street characters. Now his company makes so much more, including theater and mascot costumes for shows, parades and mall displays. Customers include Disney, General Mills, Target, the Timberwolves and Goldy Gopher.
With the state's new website, more companies will know what he does.
"I have represented Sesame Street Workshop and Jim Henson Company for years. How they ever allowed me to do it, I don't know. I'm one of the lucky ones," Egan said.