Gov. Tim Walz and a Minnesota delegation including officials representing medical technology, agriculture and higher education are trying to entice businesses and promote the state's exports during a Northern European trade mission this week.
Members of the more than 50-person group said they were repeatedly told they were one of the first trade delegations to visit the United Kingdom since the pandemic began. The Minnesotans were Helsinki-bound on Wednesday for the second and final stop in their tour.
"The reputation of Minnesota as that problem-solving, innovative state is making a difference," Walz said on a call with reporters.
This is Walz's second trade mission since taking office and the stakes are high as Minnesota's economy continues to rebound from the pandemic and as states seek an edge with global trading partners. Minnesota's exports of agricultural, mining and manufactured products jumped 29% in the second quarter over the prior year, but lagged well behind the United States as a whole.
The governor described wide-ranging discussions during the first leg of the tour, from the surge of the delta variant to the U.K.'s search for trading partners post-Brexit.
A free trade deal between the United States and the U.K. has yet to materialize in the wake of the country's withdrawal from the European Union. Walz said he will talk to the state's congressional delegation about the importance of an agreement, and companies such as Hormel and Cargill will apply pressure in Washington to reach a deal.
The departure from the E.U. creates an opportunity for increased trade, said Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish, noting that the U.K. needs to import much of its food and recently increased its fuel standard from up to 5% ethanol to 10%. Wertish, who is on the trade mission, said the United Kingdom's minister for trade policy plans to visit the state soon.
Officials also discussed opportunities around climate change goals following the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Walz said, and he is talking with the Finnish trade minister Wednesday about cooperating on research and development of sustainable technologies to mitigate climate change.
Medical technology has been another focus of the trip, Walz said.
"The three days in London and Cambridge have been super productive, particularly around developing relationships with key leaders in the British health innovation sector," said Patrick Seeb, executive director of Rochester's Destination Medical Center.
They had an idea for an "Innovation Embassy" in Rochester's Discovery Square area for countries looking to help their businesses get established in North America, Seeb said. They tested the idea on representatives from Britain's National Health Service, Cambridge University Health Partners and several other groups.
"We found that it had strong resonance," he said. "Particularly because of the strength of the greater MSP market, Medical Alley, MSP International, and other regional assets. We are able to lean on Mayo's global brand reputation as well as its physical presence in London."
The large delegation includes local officials, such as Minneapolis Regional Chamber President Jonathan Weinhagen, who said they have had a packed agenda.
"My hope is that we identify companies that could expand and grow in Minnesota and create opportunities for Minnesota companies to increase exports," Weinhagen said. "I would say the most notable thing is the energy of being back together, it's infectious."
Peter Frosch, CEO of the regional economic-development agency GREATER MSP, said they have had productive meetings with executives from a dozen companies who are now considering making an investment and creating jobs in the region.
"We expect exciting announcements in early 2022," Frosch said.
Walz is traveling with First Lady Gwen Walz and other members of his administration, including Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove, Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen and representatives from the state's trade office.
His visit to the United Kingdom started with the laying of a wreath at a cemetery to honor 27 Minnesotan soldiers and sailors killed in World War I, an event which Walz called "one of the most beautiful and heart-warming ceremonies I have seen."
He met with business and trade policy ministers, visited Mayo Clinic's outpost in London and attended networking events.
In Finland, Walz is scheduled to meet with President Sauli Niinistö and leaders of businesses currently operating in Minnesota, as well as officials from other Finnish companies in an effort to increase trade and partnerships. Walz plans to return Friday.
The trip comes as Minnesota's rate of new COVID-19 infections has been the worst in the country. Walz said he had been talking to British health authorities about their approach to the pandemic and the spike they have also seen in cases.