local business insights neal st. anthony |

Earl Bakken was a curious, adventurous northeast Minneapolis kid who hopped freight trains for day trips before World War II and dreamed of becoming a pilot.

Instead, he became the co-founder of Medtronic in the 1950s.

The electrical engineer out of the University of Minnesota moonlighted fixing TVs in the 1950s, as he worked out of a garage on what would become the first wearable, battery-powered cardiac pacemaker sought by Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, a University of Minnesota heart surgeon.

Bakken, 91, retired from Medtronic in 1989. However, he was just getting underway on his mission to improve health including through lifestyle and "holistic, high-touch approaches."

Bakken always was one interesting cat. More engineering-and-health thought leader than corporate manager, he long met with new employees to elaborate on the mission statement he drafted nearly 50 years ago. And he spent hours with current CEO Omar Ishrak before he was hired in June 2011.

"It is incredible to see the number of ideas he had that were merely dreams or the promise of possibility, which have come to be the standard of care," Ishrak says in "Dreaming on With Earl Bakken." The book is a richly illustrated 160 pages of remembrances by and about Bakken, contributed by 40 colleagues, friends and relatives. It's published by the illuminating Bakken Museum, which Earl Bakken established near Lake Calhoun in the 1970s.

Bakken and his wife moved to Hawaii in 1990. He helped establish the North Hawaii Community Hospital that focuses on integrated health care.

He remained a champion of Medtronic and Minnesota over the years as a thinker and philanthropist.

This book differs from a lot of corporate histories and CEO vanity press thanks to Bakken's candor and wit, and the contributions of associates recall his genius and different style.

"I did some strange things to get a point across, like when I had the policies and procedures manuals strapped to my ankle with a chain," recalls Bakken, who tossed them in the fire as a reminder to employees to "think outside the box."

The CEO in the 1980s, the late Dale Olseth, reminded the assembled: "Don't take Earl too seriously."

But it underscored founder Bakken's repeated pleadings to management, as chairman, to listen to employees and encourage innovation.

The book is available for $20 at the Bakken Museum's gift shop and www.thebakken.org/dreaming-on. Proceeds benefit the museum. The Bakken uses medical history and the arts to engage people with science, but its true mission is to inspire a passion for science in kids.

Minnesota tourism spending should continue to rise

About one-half of Minnesota residents vacation in Minnesota, and 78 percent said they plan to spend as much or more of their money on leisure travel in 2015 as they did 2014, according to a new survey by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center.

Among respondents surveyed during the fourth quarter of 2014, 49 percent said they plan to spend the same on leisure travel in 2015 compared to 2014, and 29 percent reported they plan to spend more. This intention to spend more is up 10 percent from 2012 and 3 percent from 2013. Previous visitor research indicates travelers spend most of their travel dollars on food, followed by nearly equal amounts on lodging and retail, and then by recreation and transportation spending.

The study was supported by the Carlson Chair of Hospitality, Travel and Tourism, and was conducted as part of the 2014 Minnesota State Survey by the Minnesota Center for Survey Research. More than 800 telephone interviews were conducted with residents of Minnesota aged 18 or older from Sept. 30 to Nov. 25, 2014.

The state tourism industry in 2013 generated $13 billion in sales, $840 million in sales tax and accounts for more than 250,000 jobs, according to Explore Minnesota Tourism.

Meanwhile, during the annual Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference in St. Paul earlier this month, Mark Ronnei, general manager of Grand View Lodge near Brainerd, was honored for his service to Minnesota during 35 years at the historic property on Gull Lake.

Ronnei said the lack of snow this year has dampened business this winter, but the late-winter crowds are starting to build and he's looking forward to a great winter and summer.

More IT training coming to Twin Cities

The Creating IT Futures Foundation will open a new office in Edina this spring and host three additional IT-Ready classes this year to train and certify information technology workers, most of whom will sign on with area companies as help desk and technical support staff for their first paid IT role.

The IT-Ready job program is offered free of charge to help unemployed and underemployed individuals enter the IT field. This and a recent hands-on education collaborative formed by the Nerdery and other area employers is welcome.

The eight-week classes will start May 4, July 20 and Oct. 19. Applications for the next class are due by April 13. Potential participants can apply at www.ITReady.com.

Since the program was established in the Twin Cities in 2012, more than 100 individuals have graduated from IT-Ready, with nearly 95 percent earning their CompTIA A+ certification and 78 percent moving into paid IT roles with area companies after graduation.

Blong Yang graduated from IT-Ready in 2013 and landed a paid apprenticeship that gave him the practical experience and skills needed to move up in the IT industry. Yang now works as an assistant analyst on the tech support team at Securian Financial.

"It is not easy to get into IT, even in entry-level positions," Yang said. "With IT-Ready, I was able to prove myself in a paid internship with no prior technical experience, aside from what I had learned on my own and through the program. That was really the 'foot-in-the-door' I needed."

Learn more at www.creatingITfutures.org.

Solar employment shines on Minnesota

Solar jobs in Minnesota more than doubled from 2013, to 1,800 jobs in 2014, according the recent State Solar Jobs Census, according to the Solar Foundation.

Nevada led the nation with 146 percent growth. Minnesota jumped from No. 31 to No. 23 among states in terms of total solar jobs.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law in 2013 a "solar electricity standard" that requires public utilities to obtain 1.5 percent of their electricity sales from solar by 2020.

The State Solar Jobs Census report was derived from data collected from more than 7,600 U.S. businesses for the period of November 2013 to November 2014.

Solar jobs in the United States grew 22 percent to 31,000 in 2014.