Black Hills IP, a Minneapolis-based provider of intellectual property, paralegal and other services to law firms and corporations, has signed its 100th customer.

Black Hills was started a few years ago by the same group of Minneapolis lawyers who started one of the first India-based legal-services outsourcing companies a decade ago, and sold it after concluding that the work could be done better and more economically in the Midwest.

“Our paralegals and docketing staff are located in the U.S., but our costs are competitive with offshore providers,” said Black Hills CEO Ann McCrackin, a former IP lawyer and law school professor at the Franklin Pierce School of Law at the University of New Hampshire. The secret sauce? McCrackin said it’s hiring productive employees and investing in training and technology that aids efficiency and accuracy. Sounds like the same vibe as some of Minnesota’s best specialty manufacturers who have brought work home from distant shores.

Chairman Leon Steinberg, a veteran Minneapolis attorney and businessman, said Black Hills will expand from 50 employees in Rapid City, S.D., and Minneapolis to up to 100 within a couple of years and will move its headquarters in October to larger quarters in the downtown Baker Building. Steinberg said wages in India have risen markedly in recent years and U.S. lawyers want quick-turnaround calls with employees working on their cases, which usually is not the case when calling Indian outsourcing firms.

“Often it was a 24-hour turnaround with a call to India,” Steinberg said. “You didn’t get to talk to the person who’s doing your work. Our U.S. employees are just much more productive.”

Other complicating factors with Indian firms included confidentiality, customs and international laws.

Black Hills was started a few years ago in low-cost South Dakota by partners at IP firm Schwegman Lundberg and Woessner, who expanded to Minneapolis in 2011 for the larger legal talent pool.

The same team started Intellevate, one of the first U.S.-owned entries in the legal-outsourcing push in India a decade ago.

creatives for causes founder sue crolick steps down

Congrats to Sue Crolick, one of the Twin Cities’ first female advertising art directors years ago, who has completed an ennobling second chapter of her career.

Crolick has stepped down after nearly 20 years as executive director of nonprofit Creatives for Causes, which matches creative professionals as mentors to thousands of inner-city kids through her wonderful Art Buddies program.

“I’m ready for a new chapter,” Crolick, a young 71, said the other day. “I needed to let go of this thing and do more hiking and time with my grandkids. It’s been a great joy and a lot of work. I was an art director [in 1992] faced with learning computers. I had a dream to start this nonprofit and I was divorced and a single mom. My mom and siblings were so worried about how I would support myself. I just had this faith it would work. Being an art director isn’t so secure either.”

Crolick and Art Buddies program director Stephanie Vagle created millions of value every year on a $150,000 budget donated by supporters. Combined with free office space from the Carmichael Lynch ad agency and $400,000 in in-kind support from volunteers, the program brought more art and creativity weekly to about 160 disadvantaged kids each year at two inner-city public grade schools. An Art Buddy after-school session is a swirl of color and style and laughter, a chance for kids to have an art-making relationship with a friendly professional and imagine careers as graphic designers or website developers.

“Art Buddies is cool ’cuz you get your own person,” a 10-year-old named DeShaun once told Crolick.

The program also helps improve classroom attendance and performance. Scott Mikesh, an Art Buddies volunteer and digital design pro, succeeds Crolick, who remains a volunteer board member.



Toro is expected to announce Thursday a multimillion-dollar facilities expansion of its Bloomington campus. Toro, known best for lawn-and-snow equipment, moved into construction last year by acquiring Astec Underground and Stone Construction. The companies make a line of trenchers and horizontal utility drills and concrete mixers and motorized wheelbarrows.

• Six division finalists have been chosen for the ninth annual Minnesota Cup entrepreneurial sweepstakes on Sept. 11 at the University of Minnesota. Each will receive up to $25,000 and will be competing for a $40,000 grand prize and assistance in accelerating their fledgling enterprises. Garden Fresh Farms is the winner in the energy/clean tech category. ShedBed, the student category winner, developed a technology that attracts and contains pet hair and dander to the pet’s bed. More information can be found at