Mosaic’s move to Florida, which was announced last week, was expected and not a disaster.

A Fortune 500 company, Mosaic, a Cargill spinoff 15 years ago, has seen its local employment diminish by half, to 150. It was evolving geographically to its global mining operations in Florida, where it employs 3,700 employees.

Mosaic brass didn’t complain about Minnesota’s economy or taxes. It cited savings in travel and office space as the reasons for leaving.

Minnesota had 13 Fortune 500 companies in 2000. There will be 16 after Mosaic departs. We should be grateful for these behemoths in food, finance, technology and retail. They also spawn smaller companies through carve-outs and managers who leave to do their own thing.

In fact, it has been the small, fast-growing companies that have driven record employment and a strong Twin Cities economy.

That would include everything from Bridgewater Bancshares, the small business lender that went public last year, to Smart Care, the Ecolab spinoff with 900-plus employees that is the anchor tenant of St. Paul’s Osborn370 downtown entrepreneur center.

Then, there is Perforce Software, based in the North Loop. It already employs 300 people, including 70-plus since 2016 at its headquarters in the refurbished Wyman Building. The company was based in San Francisco two years ago. .

Janet Dryer, 56, is a two-time business builder who started in 1983 as the third employee at HelpSystems, another software firm. She grew it as CEO to nearly 300 employees and $110 million in revenue by the time she “retired,” following a sale to a private equity outfit in late 2014.

Dryer’s successor as CEO at Help­Systems, Chris Heim, 53, has driven the IT services firm to revenue of $175 million-plus and 500-plus employees.

Dryer, who started in sales, claims her greatest talent is hiring good people. She didn’t stay on the bench long after the HelpSystems sale.

Peter Rottier, a Summit Partners managing partner, oversaw Summit’s successful, long-term investment in HelpSystems under Dryer. He contacted Dryer in 2015 about a small, San Francisco-based specialty software firm he wanted to buy called Perforce Software.

Dryer took over in January 2016 and moved the headquarters to Minneapolis.

Perforce had “great products, a good customer list and a great technology team,” said Colleen Kulhanek, Perforce’s vice president of marketing, who used to work for Dryer at HelpSystems. But the founding CEO was more interested in selling the business than building it.

Software development remains in California. Kulhanek expects Perforce to double Minneapolis employment to 140 by 2019.

It’s also less expensive to run a software firm from Minneapolis than the Bay Area.

“Janet is a great CEO and created a great company and outcome for employees and investors at HelpSystems,” said Phil Soran, who has built three Twin Cities tech companies and who was a HelpSystems board member.

Summit Partners, has made a lot of money over 20 years or so with investments in Twin Cities tech firms, including HelpSystems, Ability Network, Jamf and others. Rottier credits a “durable growth,” long-term mind-set he’s found among Twin Cities entrepreneurs. Summit was the prime investor in Ability, another North Loop growth company, which has grown to 550-plus employees. Its software links health care payment networks and providers. It was just acquired for $1.2 billion by medical-data analytics firm Inovalon Holdings of suburban Washington, D.C.

Ability just leased more space in the Butler Square building.

At Perforce, Dryer is surrounded by senior managers who formerly worked with her at HelpSystems. That includes Mark Ties, the HelpSystems CFO, who is president of Perforce.

Dryer said she has infused the HelpSystems culture into Perforce. She is remembered for giving up some of her stock and persuading Summit Partners to give up some of its winnings so that some stock-less HelpSystems employees would enjoy a bit of the substantial windfall from the company’s sale in 2015.

Her formula: pay employees competitively, treat them fairly and share some winnings.

“We don’t drive people 12 hours a day,” Dryer said. “Work from home if you need to or want to. Be nice and employees stick around.”

Dryer, a Fargo, N.D., native moved to Minnesota to attend the College of St. Benedict.

When Dryer was a high school senior in 1978-79, she was named an “All American Window Girl” by McDonald’s for handling drive-through orders under the company’s 45-second goal.

“I could get a customer in and out in 35 seconds,” Dryer claimed. “And I still get as excited about a $5,000 order as a $1 million order. It’s all a win.”

Dryer’s inclusive, company-building efforts have been a win for a resilient Minnesota economy.

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.