Minnesota modesty has its place -- but not in the intense competition for expanding or relocating companies and the badly needed jobs they create.
"The region has done a very poor job of marketing itself," said Bob Ady, president of Chicago-based Ady International, one of eight site selection firms that met in late June with prominent Twin Cities politicians and business leaders.
"We haven't been telling our story," agreed Todd Klingel, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Once told, it's a compelling, competitive story, according to Jonathan Sangster, senior managing director of commercial real-estate services firm CBRE in Atlanta. Sangster is impressed at "how competitive the region can be in doing projects, particularly in factors like competitive cost of business, cost of living and quality of life."
As the site selectors learned about our region, those tasked with attracting businesses here got an education on what companies around the country are looking for. Contrary to much business-climate rhetoric, taxes aren't the sole defining dynamic. Indeed, some of the qualities commonly demonized as job-killers are actually attractive to site selectors.
"Everybody thinks it's taxes, taxes, taxes," said Ady. "But it's really about labor, labor, labor. And in the three facets of labor -- costs, productivity and quality -- you hang in there very well."
On regionalism, the oft-derided Met Council is perceived as positive, if not as a cost of entry into the competition. "I'm a big fan of a regional organization working together for a common cause," said Sangster. "A regional approach is almost essential these days."
More broadly, collaboration across the community draws praise. "I was impressed with the public sector, private sector and academia working together," said Ady. "That kind of concerted effort is unusual. Usually they're in their own spheres and only talk because of a crisis."
Transit also is often wrongly positioned as an antibusiness boondoggle, and continues the pattern of perceived weaknesses actually being strengths. "A market your size is positioning itself for long-term success," Sangster said. "The ability to move people around and get people to their jobs is viewed favorably."
Klingel concurred, saying "They all applauded the light-rail line and were impressed to know another line is under construction, because that's part of a city that wants to take part in the future." Realizing that light rail is the third rail for many Republican politicians, he expressed the hope that should GOP endorsee Rep. Tom Emmer become Gov. Emmer, he will "become more enlightened in his view of transit for economic development for the community. We are transit fans, and the Chamber is not going to back away from that."
Nor should the region back away from what has and will make it great: the fundamentals of good government and a highly educated workforce. What it should abandon is any reluctance to boast about its assets.
Organizing the selling process should be the next step, as the stakes are high. State economic development officials report that just last year there were about 143 qualified inquiries in the state. And it's not just a metro issue; about 40 to 45 percent were focused on greater Minnesota.
The assembled organizations should put our reputation for regionalism and collaboration to the test by learning from and cooperating with the Itasca Group, whose recently issued report "Charting a New Course: Restoring Job Growth in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Region" addresses many of the same issues.
Then it's time to market Minnesota's story, which is good enough to justify a little Texas swagger.