The China speech my daughter translated

The greatest thrill I had on my trip to China was to give a welcome speech to our sister city of Harbin and have my daughter Gracie step to the mike and translate it into Chinese.  (We have a pretty rough video that should be up next week but here is what I said:)

One of my earliest memories from childhood was a hot summer day when I took a large spoon out of my mother’s kitchen drawer and went into the backyard to dig a giant hole.  It was not going to be just any hole.  It would be a hole so big I would get all the way to China!

     I knew it was a huge task.  The spoon was small and the earth was huge, but I knew I didn’t have to dig all that way myself.  I was sure that on the other side of  the earth there as a boy just my age with the same idea and we would meet exactly in the middle.

      I thought about that boy as I dug.  Would I be able to understand him?  Did he like baseball as much as I did? I thought about the round globe in my house, the one with China and America on opposite sides.  If we were both standing up where our countries were did that mean we were both standing sideways?  Or maybe he lived his whole life upside down, but somehow didn’t fall off.  I knew we had a lot to talk about so I kept digging.

     Well, that spoon wasn’t as big as it needed to be, and I got distracted.  The hole never got much deeper than my shin.  I went back to it a few times over the next few days but never made much progress.

     Now, almost half a century later, I have finally come to the place I thought about on that hot summer day.  I want to ask whether any of you were that boy…or girl…with your own wooden spoon…hoping to meet me halfway?

       I didn’t get here like I imagined I would but my childhood thoughts were right in one way:  I didn’t have to get here on my own.

     No matter where they actually meet, people from Harbin and Minneapolis have been meeting halfway for almost three decades.  Our hands of friendship began reaching out at a time when our countries viewed each other with caution  We grew closer as our countries established formal ties.  And now we start a new era when those hands of friendship are needed to join together a world very much in need of our patnership to bring both peace and prosperity.

    Here on the brink  of an era of great change, our two cities, and our two countries, can be partners as we find ways to reenergize our economies.  We can be partners as we develop great advancements in medical devices and biotechology that help end suffering for so many.  We can be partners in inventing the new sources of power that lessen the impacts on our earch and its atmosphere.

      Our cities are very different but also very similar.  We both have harsh winters that people from elsewhere often don’t understand.  They may say that even the birds fly away as soon as tney can.  But we know better:  We know those birds….who could live anywhere they want…come back as soon as they can.  What could be more beautiful than Harbin, or Minneapolis, in the Spring?

     Over our time together we will learn there is far more that brings us together than breaks us apart.  And as we find great challenges in the years ahead, let us always remember with each spoon full of dirt we lift, that true partners only have to go halfway.

China trip: an overview

The Chinese word for “crisis” is a combination of “danger” and “opportunity.” That’s clearly how they see the current world economic situation, at least that’s how it looked during the 11 days I just spent there.

      My trip took me to Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Harbin,  and included  a conference on economic development in the Great Hall, a series of meetings with Chinese government and business leaders,  meetings with leaders of Minnesota companies doing business there and interviews with various Chinese media.

   Over and over I heard Chinese say that most periods of economic downturn are followed by periods of innovation, and they are looking for partnerships in new opporunities in innovative industries like biotech and clean energy.   That was music to my ears because the goal of my trip was to use the surging Chinese economy to help create jobs here.  I talked very directly to them about the opportunites to invest in these kinds of businesses in Minnesota, and used the example of Coloplast, the Danish biotech firm that bought a business in Minnesota and liked it so much they moved their entire U.S. headquarters…and 500 jobs…to north Minneapolis.   Partnerships like this can be promising but they take a while to pay off.  That’s why I worked on a few other areas that could deliver results faster.

     *Travel, both vacations and business: The fastest way we are going to get Chinese growth to help us is to tap into their rapidly growing travel.  Hospitality is a very important part of Minesota’s economy, both for companies like Carlson, and our hotels, restaurants and retail…all really suffering right now.  A decade ago Minneapolis targeted travelers from Japan and now it’s our top market.  Let’s do the same with China now, because the opportunity is huge.  So we worked very closely with the leaders of Delta/Northwest on my visit, and met with leaders of some of China’s top travel agencies, and are customizing travel to Minnesota to meet their needs.  (We heard a lot about how hard it is for Chinese travelers to get visas so talked about this with embassy officials in Shanghai.)

     *Construction and Architecture: These very important parts of Minnesota’s economy are facing the toughest period in memory right now and we are going to work hard to help them get a piece of the explosive growth in China.  We talked with the leader of Mortenson Constuction in China about ways to help them crack into this very complicated market.   We also spent a lot of time talking to Chinese government leaders in Beijing, Shanghai and Harbin about the fact that Minnesota has some of the U.S.s’  top artchitecture talent, including firms already doing business there.  (RSP, Ellerbe Becket, Leonard Parker, Cunningham Group). The officials were very interested in our design talent and I’m going to meet with representatives of our firms now that I’m back to see how we can turn those opened doors into business.

      *Opening doors for Minnesota companies already doing business in China:   My speech on economic development in the Great Hall was attended by a large number of Chinese goverment officials so I used a good portion introducing the Minnesota businesses who want to do more work there.  I also had a meeting with the Shanghai’s  Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, so I brought with me the directors of Chinese operations for Best Buy, Target, Delta/Northwest and Blue Dot furniture.   I made more introductions of Minnesota businesses in meetings with the Mayor and other officials in Harbin, our sister city which has “only” a population of 9 million.

       *Student exchanges: The University of Minnesota has in recent years had more Chinese students than any other American university.  That’s very valuable for us because they often return home, get work in good companies or the government, and then can help open doors for Minnesota.  I talked about the U in every presentation we had, and we have to keep pitching it because other American schools have caught on and are making very aggressive promotions.  I also mentioned Capella University to a number of people there….this Minneapolis company educates students  online around the world but they are only beginning to crack the Chinese market.

Minnesota has tremendous opportunity in China but we have to be smart and strategic about it.  We have to do this work without taking our eye off the ball here at home, and we don’t have much money to spend.   The key will be to take all the people with Minnesota contacts now working there, and all the people here with contacts there, and work togther on a stragegy that will bring some of this growth back home.  

Those are my first impressions…I’m still have a little jetlag so sorry it’s a bit rough…but I’d love to hear your thoughts at rt@minneapolis.org.  (You can find pictures of my visit on my Facebook and I’m going to post another blog on the speech I gave in our sister city of Harbin.)

Rybak is heading to China

On Sunday, May 17 Mayor Rybak goes to China to promote Minneapolis as a travel destination for the rapidly growing Chinese market, as well as to promote Minneapolis companies doing business in China. The trip is part of the City’s long held goal of widening relations between Minneapolis and major Chinese cities.

Mayor Rybak is traveling first to Beijing, China to speak at the International Forum on Development of High-Tech Enterprises at the Great Hall of the People. At this Forum, Mayor Rybak will be discussing his views about how cities and urban centers can drive economic development and how different regions can expand economic cooperation to promote growth. Rybak is the only U.S. Mayor and one of only a few Americans speaking at the Forum.

In addition to speaking at the Forum, Mayor Rybak will spend several days in Beijing, Shanghai, and Harbin, China meeting with various government, business, technology, and academic leaders. Mayor Rybak will be posting updates of his trip right here on The Mayor Blog.

The purpose of the Mayor’s trip is to promote and position Minneapolis as a destination for leisure travel and technical study from China, especially using the resources of Meet Minneapolis and Delta Air Lines. Rybak will meet with Minneapolis companies who have operations in China to help foster more business relationships that secure future business development for more Minneapolis-based companies. He will also work to strengthen the City’s relationship with our Sister City of Harbin, including by visiting a new “Minneapolis Hall” in Harbin’s Sister Cities Museum.

China’s travelers are the world’s fastest growing travel market in the world. A year ago Chinese visitors spent $2.5 billion in the U.S. and the market is expected to grow by 81%.

Minneapolis gets highest credit ratings

The City of Minneapolis has again received the highest credit ratings, despite financial challenges in this difficult economy. Both Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services assigned the City of Minneapolis the highest rating possible, AAA. Moody’s also gave the City a very high Aa1 rating.

All three rating agencies noted Minneapolis’ strong financial management as key to earning high ratings:

  • Standard & Poor’s said Minneapolis’ management practices were “strong, well embedded, and likely sustainable.”
  • Moody’s said that “Minneapolis has a long history of strong financial management and controls, a well-managed budget process, and a system of setting and meeting goals as evidenced by its institutionalized multi-year financial planning.”
  • Fitch reported “The City’s ‘AAA’ rating reflects its broad economy, strong and consistent financial performance, ample financial flexibility, prudent long-term planning, and moderate tax-supported debt levels.” It noted that the City has managed significant cuts in state funding to Minneapolis in recent years and that the city has contingency plans for managing further expected cuts in the coming years.

The agencies noted some of the financial challenges Minneapolis is likely to face in the next several years, including decreasing state funding, mounting pension obligations, growing public safety expenses, and economic conditions that include a weakened housing market, residential foreclosures, a slowdown in job growth, and a rise in unemployment. Despite these challenges, Moody’s noted that it believes Minneapolis will “continue to retain its economic preeminence as a diversified Midwestern urban center.”

In the last several years, Mayor Rybak has worked to streamline City services, find efficiencies and address financial challenges head-on. Long-term financial planning in place since the Mayor was elected has maintained City reserves and meant that ongoing expenses are supported by ongoing revenue. Mayor Rybak has focused on decreasing Minneapolis’ debt and since he took office and $86.5 million in debt has been eliminated in that since 2002 when he bacame mayor.

City funds grassroots green activism

2009 Green Grants Group

For the third year in a row, Minneapolis is giving grants to help local neighborhoods and grassroots community organizations fund creative ways to engage residents to fight climate change. This year we are giving $75,000 in 15 small grants to neighborhood and business groups, faith-based organizations and nonprofits whose efforts inspire their members to curb climate change.

A new trend among a number of 2009 climate change grantees promotes local business and involves mobilizing residents to reduce energy use by shopping locally – often on foot. Walking to the corner store instead of driving miles away to shop, and buying locally grown food not only helps local businesses , but also helps reduce our use of energy and fight climate change all at the same time.

Grant awardees also sign up people for the Minnesota Energy Challenge, which already has more than 7,000 Minneapolis members. These people pledge to make changes in their lives – large or small – to reduce their energy use to save money on energy costs and help local businesses. From the 2007 and 2008 past climate change grants, Minneapolis residents and businesses pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10.9 tons, saving $1.33 million in energy costs each year.

These grant projects represent the best in grassroots citizen action: residents coming together as workplaces, block clubs, churches, or neighborhoods to build our local clean energy economy and preserve our planet. Congratulations and best of luck to all the grantees. A full list of the grantees can be found on the city website.

Working to End Homlessness

Minneapolis and Hennepin County are hosting Project Homeless Connect at the Minneapolis Convention Center on May 11th. This incredible event, which brings together hundreds of service providers to create a one-stop shop to end homelessness, has served thousands of people and engaged nearly 4000 volunteers over the past three years.  If you are interested in finding out more, or about volunteering at please visit www.homelessconnectminneapolis.org.

Changing School Options

Much discussion is currently underway as Minneapolis parents, teachers, school administrators, community leaders and many others grapple with the challenges faced by the Minneapolis school system.  Major demographic shifts are underway in this city, state and country that require our school district to change, to reform and to improve the way we prepare our kids for the future.  The recently proposed Changing School Options is one way the school district administration is trying to make the changes that need to be made in our schools.

Although the city charter does not give the Mayor direct authority over school policy, I am following this issue closely.  I am listening to residents and communicating with the school district’s leadership about the Changing School Options plan.  I am especially focused on helping the district streamline their transportation expenses so that more dollars can be used directly in the classroom.  I support the goal of having a balance of magnet and community schools available to all neighborhoods.

The School District will notify families as soon as they are able to establish a new community engagement meeting schedule, likely within the next week.  The most important thing Minneapolis residents can do is to continue to share your views directly with the school district.  I encourage you to learn more and voice your concerns about the Changing School Options proposal.

I’m glad to see so many people caring so much about Minneapolis Public Schools.  These are difficult issues, there are no easy solutions, and parents rightfully have passion about how schools serve families and communities.  Having a great school system is the key to the vitality of our city.

I will continue to look for ways to play a constructive role at this critical time.  I spend a lot of time in the schools. There is great learning going on, so let’s keep raising the bar.  With the support of engaged people, we can lay the solid foundation for all students to succeed.