State of the City: Investing to Grow

Yesterday I delivered my annual State of the City speech at Augsburg College. You can read more about it on the City’s website, but I wanted to make the full text available here. Thanks for your interest!

Investing to Grow the City

Most of us know the story of how Minneapolis became an economic powerhouse: the only natural waterfall on the Mississippi supplied the power to turn an outpost at the gateway to the prairie into the milling capital of the world. Those mills grew into corporate giants like General Mills and Pillsbury and we transformed from a manufacturing city into a service economy and a creative capital with global reach.

It’s a great story, and even better because it’s all true. But if we are going to move our economy to the next level, put in place the powerful public/private partnerships we need to compete on the global stage and build an economy that leaves no one behind, then we need to understand the full story of where jobs are in our region. 

True, we are service economy and a creative capital. True, we are as likely to grow a job because an advertising firm lands a big new account than because a factory moves to town.

But we still make things in Minneapolis. We make things that make a lot of money, and things that create a lot of jobs in many different and surprising fields. Here’s just a sampling of them: 

  • VAST Enterprises permeable pavers are made of 95% post-consumer recycled content, require 82% less energy and release 89% less carbon dioxide than making traditional concrete pavers.  
  • Dero custom bike racks, made in Prospect Park, are immediately recognizable because they’re in nearly every Minneapolis business districts, in custom shapes and with business or neighborhood logos.
  • Mrs. Meyers Clean Day liquid hand soap is 100% biodegradable. It’s made by the Caldrea Company with offices in the Ford Center.
  • This blower door from The Energy Conservatory is used to locate and fix air leaks in home energy audits. The Energy Conservatory is the world’s largest manufacturer of blower doors, with 90% market share.
  • A growler of beer from Minneapolis’ newest brewery, Harriet Brewery, a new business that was made possible by a change in City ordinances.
  • Asphalt roofing shingles by G.A.F., North America’s largest roofing materials company, are manufactured at their North Minneapolis plant.
  • The Husky 1050 pump by Graco has been named the best pump of its kind for fluid handling. It’s used for chemicals, adhesives and resins, and is often used in Minneapolis’ important printing sector.
  • Speaking of the printing sector, MacIntosh Printing, located in southeast Minneapolis, presented a copy of this gold- and silver-embossed bible to the Pope. It now resides in the Vatican library.
  • And Photo Book Press recently made this custom photo album for Lady Gaga to give to members of a recent tour.

You heard that right: in Minneapolis we make books for the Pope and Lady Gaga.

Minneapolis has complex economic ecosystem, and one of its greatest strengths is that it is diverse. No single downturn in a single industry can sink us, and this simple fact has kept unemployment lower in our city and metro region than it is in comparable cities and regions across the country. That also means there is no single action we can take to make it grow.

But it is clear that right now, we have to focus on growing. A stronger economy means more people in good jobs, which means more demand for good housing. That strengthens our neighborhoods and increases the tax base, which lessens the tax burden on all of us.

When it comes to the second half of that formula, over the past several years, we have made some real progress in getting out of the way and breaking down barriers that have stood in the way of doing business: 

  • In 2005, it took the City 79 days to issue a liquor license. Now it takes 31 days.
  • In 2007, it took the City 42 days to issue a restaurant license. Now it takes 14 days.
  • In 2005, it took the City 37 days to route formal development plans. Now it takes five days.

That’s progress: now let’s keep going. We have begun working with the Regional Mayors and the Minneapolis and St. Paul Chambers of Commerce on making regulation as consistent as possible across cities in the region. The goal is to help business move seamlessly across the metro area to create jobs, and it should especially help small businesses that have the fewest resources to dedicate to navigating regulation. 

Knowing when to get out of the way is important. But those who believe that getting out of the way is all government has to do — those who say government is the problem — don’t understand the complexity of the economy and don’t understand how much we have done as a city government to set the stage for creating jobs. 

In Minneapolis, our growth strategy is centered on investing in three critical areas: 

  • Investing in people;
  • Investing in the common ground;
  • Investing in small business.

Investing in people

The first and most fundamental investment we make as a City is in our people. Most city governments are not actively involved in job placement and training. We are. Many years ago the City of Minneapolis decided not to get out of the way, but to get into the business of helping hard-to-employ and laid-off people get back into work. Nine years ago, we fused those successful efforts into a more powerful, more focused economic-development department.

Our Workforce Council, led by Carolyn Roby and other leaders from the private sector, guides our job-training and job-placement efforts in partnership with a network of community-based providers.

This work works. Just this morning a study by a national professional-recruiting firm named Minneapolis the best city in the country for finding employment. They cited our low 6.5% unemployment rate, the diversity of our industries that have weathered the recession well, our low crime rate and our high quality of life. And that’s no accident.

Since 2002, we have helped place 12,016 people in jobs. Those who had been hard to employ and out of work for a long time are now earning an average of  $11 an hour, while those who had been working and were laid off are now earning an average of $20 an hour. 

That’s 12,016 inspiring stories of people who sought help in tough times and succeeded. 

  • That includes people like Ronie, who had been homeless for a year and unemployed for two. We connected her with training to become an office specialist, where she learned computer skills, and improved her resume and interviewing skills.  Today she has a permanent position with benefits in retail customer service — and her own apartment.

Another example comes from RENEW, a partnership with Ramsey County, which uses Recovery Act-funding to get low-income jobseekers in green-collar careers.  More than 400 people enrolled, and about 70% of those who completed training are now employed. 

  • One is Andrew, who had only sporadic jobs but couldn’t find full time work.  After training with American Indian OIC, he has a full-time job doing lead abatement earning $15 an hour.

Ronie and Andrew are two adults whose lives are better because we helped them get to work. 

Coming behind them is tomorrow’s workforce, which will include thousands of students from Minneapolis schools who have been part of The Minneapolis Promise. The Minneapolis Promise says to young people: if you take your education seriously, you have three steps to success:

  • Privately-funded college and career centers in every public high school: Every Minneapolis high school student is now required to complete My Life plan.
  • Work experience: Since 2004, more than 12,000 Minneapolis youth have had summer work experience through the STEP-UP program.
  • Help paying for college. More than 800 Minneapolis high school graduates have gone to college for free at Minneapolis Community and Technical College’s thanks to the Power of You program. The University and Augsburg also have growing partnerships with our students who need the financial help to finish school.

The young people in our schools speak 100 languages and every one of them crosses cultural barriers every day. They can be the key to our global competitiveness and our young people are stepping up to the challenge. Now we need each of you to step up by offering a young person a STEP-UP summer job this year. Call 311 and learn more about how you can not only help build our future, but help your company this summer.

Our efforts to get both adults and young people into the workforce are paying off right here in the West Bank neighborhood. Three quick examples of our investment in people:

The first is Cedar-Riverside Partnership, which Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow chairs, last year launched the first-ever Urban Scrubs Camp. For one week in August, 70 young people — one-third from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood — spent a week living on campus getting invaluable hands-on experience in healthcare careers. Healthcare now accounts for 17% of all jobs in our Minneapolis. Demand is especially growing for talent from our diverse communities, and there’s no better place to start recruiting than among high-school students. Two students from last year’s Urban Scrubs Camp are with us here today — in their scrubs: 

  • Chaquona McCall is a high-school student at Augsburg Fairview Academy,
  • Jiccarra Holman graduated from Augsburg Fairview and is now a first-year student in nursing at St. Catherine’s.

The second example of investment in this neighborhood is the workforce agreement that the City signed with Fairview and Kraus-Anderson to construct Children’s Hospital. We set some strong goals for the project and we met or exceeded each one. For example: 

  • We set a goal that 5% of hours should be completed by apprentices — and 13% were.
  • We set a goal that 10% of contracts should be with women- and minority-owned businesses — and 14% were. 
  • We set a goal that 11% of unskilled workers should be workers of color — and 20% were.
  • We set a goal that 30 people from the zip codes closest to the project should be hired to work on it — and 37 were.

And every contractor and every worker on the job was union — so you know it was done right.

The third example investment in this neighborhood is the revitalization of the iconic Riverside Plaza. Developer George Sherman will break ground shortly on improving 1,303 units of affordable housing, a project that will create 250 construction jobs. 

The City of Minneapolis is supporting this work with nearly $2 million in assistance and up to $80 million in tax-exempt, multifamily-housing revenue bonds, but we’re not the only ones: Aegon USA Realty Advisors, a housing fund backed by Google, is providing $28 million in financing for the project; and the national AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust is providing another $50 million.

The City negotiated a development agreement with Sherman Associates that establishes a safety center, funds the tenant association for 20 years, contributes $75,000 to a new public plaza and reserves 90 jobs for residents of Riverside Plaza and their neighbors.

So as you see, the first major investment that we make to grow Minneapolis is in our people — and here in Cedar Riverside, the potential of that investment is clear.

Investing in the common ground

The second major investment is investing in infrastructure, the common ground that helps everyone succeed.

Above all, that common ground must be safe.

Here we have a lot to be proud of.  Led by Chief Tim Dolan and Assistant Chief Janee Harteau — our police and community have brought violent crime to their lowest level in 27 years. Violent crime and property crime are that their lowest level in 47 years. 

There have been many factors in that work, including three years of a sustained, community-based, public-health approach to fighting juvenile violence that is based in the Blueprint for Action. We have shut off the pipeline of young people moving in the wrong direction. Last year the number of juvenile suspects in violent crimes was down 22% over the year before.

Another great community effort this year has been our attack on violent offenders with guns. Starting in July, we also began a closer-than-ever partnership with the offices of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones to target gun violence and get the most violent offenders off the street. In next four months gun violence dropped 23%.

When the common ground is safe, people are more likely to invest.

Take the Downtown 100 initiative — a partnership funded by the Downtown Improvement District that includes the City of Minneapolis, St. Stephen’s Human Services, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and the Salvation Army. In the first year of the partnership, offenses committed by the top chronic offenders downtown declined 74%.

Take West Broadway: The East Gateway Partnership created safety plans for businesses, mapped crime daily and took a zero-tolerance approach to drug dealing.  Violent crime in the West Broadway area fell 17% last year and 27% over two years.

So when the Minneapolis Public Schools completes the move of their headquarters to West Broadway next year, those nearly 600 employees will find it safer street to walk to Cub Foods to buy groceries. And business leaders like Dr. John Williams, the former pro football player who has kept his dental office on Broadway through years of challenges, can see signs that things are getting better.

I also want to thank Chief Alex Jackson and the entire Minneapolis Fire Department for their strong efforts in keeping the common ground safe.

Investing in the common ground also means investing in our physical infrastructure, especially our roads and bridges. Three years ago, I proposed the Infrastructure Acceleration Program, an initiative to invest an additional $5 million more a year to resurface or sealcoat one-third of our busiest commercial corridors in five years. After two full years, we have improved 32 miles of streets of our busiest streets. This year, we plan to improve 25 more miles on heavily traveled streets like Stevens Avenue South, Second Avenue South, 49th Avenue North, Diamond Lake Road and Chicago Avenue.

Our budget calls for continuing the Infrastructure Acceleration program for three more years and adding an additional $9 million more for additional commercial and residential paving. That’s good but as anyone who has driven over a pothole lately can tell you, this is still far short of what we need to make up for years of delayed investments in our streets.

We also know that in Minneapolis and in our region, roads alone won’t do it — we need a dynamic, region-wide, multi-modal transit system to spur growth.

In 1950, the streetcar city of Minneapolis—the city that had grow up and flourished around transit corridors — had 125,000 more people in it than it does today, before the streetcars were pulled up and neighborhoods ripped up for freeways.

We have room to grow today, but we can only grow as long as our streets and highways don’t become overly congested — and in some cases, they’re pretty close to it already. That’s why we need to build a 21st-century transportation system with buses and bus rapid transit, light rail and modern street cars, and better access for both bikes and pedestrians.

In the past year, we have made critical progress on all fronts.

Light rail. The Central Corridor to Saint Paul is under construction: after 30 years of planning, we are finally on our way to connecting downtown Minneapolis to the University and downtown Saint Paul. We cannot overestimate the importance of this moment. More LRT lines are now being planned to the southwest and along Bottineau Blvd.

Streetcars. Last December, the City won a very competitive $900,000 federal grant to analyze upgrading from buses to modern streetcars on Nicollet and Central Avenues. We have work to do to catch up: in the past year, ten cities in America that had got ahead of us in planning won between $23 million and $63 million dollars from Washington to build new streetcar lines.

Bus rapid transit. The successful opening 15 months ago of the Marq2 project — the conversion of Marquette and Second Avenues for bus rapid transit has tripled the bus capacity there.  

  • There are now 40% more bus trips on those streets.
  • Ridership is up 21% on the critical 35W South corridor.
  • Riders are spending an average of five minutes less in traffic.

All this means there are 35% fewer bus trips on Nicollet Mall, making that more pleasant for pedestrians and opens up new visions for the next generation Nicollet Mall and opening up development opportunities there.

We also now have our first BRT station at 46th Street, but now we need to move aggressively on the next one, at 35W and Lake as part of a new access project.

Bicycles. Along with being named the #1 bike city in America, last year we launched what was then the nation’s largest bike-share program. People took more than 100,000 rides on a Nice Ride bike in its first five-month season. We are now about to double the size of the system, thanks to an additional commitment of $1 million from Bike Walk Twin Cities and another $500,000 from Blue Cross.

For a generation, cars — and the freeways that serve them — have dictated how we grew. That’s changing. Today Minneapolis, which originally grew along streetcar lines, has the potential to grow along modern-day streetcar lines, light rail, bus rapid transit and bike corridors. If we grow here — where more people can get along without cars — we can grow even more because our freeways and streets won’t be gridlocked.

We saw what that looks like when the Chamber of Commerce led a delegation from to visit Austin, Texas earlier this year. Austin has a lot going for it but it has a deeply congested freeway system and seemingly no political will to invest in transit. I will put our future growing along transit corridors up against their future growing on gridlocked freeways any day of the week.

Four key corridors stand out as Minneapolis’ most promising spots for transit-oriented development: 

  • West Bank — where the Riverside Plaza revitalization and a Central Corridor LRT stop will re-urbanize Washington Av. from a freeway-style trench into a transit/pedestrian corridor with 12 new development sites.
  • Lake and Nicollet — where new freeway access and a BRT station on 35W, and potential transit on the Midtown Greenway, can create market growth to help fund the reopening of Nicollet.
  • Market District — where a new LRT station across from the Farmer’s Market and the County’s exciting Interchange Project will create a new district where thousands of new residents can walk to work or a Twins game or pick up the freshest produce a few blocks from home.
  • Finally, and urgently, around the Hiawatha Light Rail line.

We can’t stand back and hope this will happen. Every arm of city government needs to focus every tool that we have on growing along these high-potential transit corridors. That will be the work of David Frank, the city’s new director of Transit Oriented Development. We already focus our development resources on these corridors but we can do more, especially with dollars in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. And when I build the City’s capital budget for next year, I will be looking hard at how we can shift these infrastructure dollars into these areas to speed transit-oriented development.

And at a policy level, we need to help State Senator Scott Dibble and Representative Frank Hornstein pass a bill for which they have long advocated that would let us use tax-increment dollars to help fund innovative transit-oriented development.

When you see us being laser-focused on growth in these transit corridors, remember this: 

  • We need to lower property taxes.
  • One of the best ways to lower taxes on our homes is to grow the tax base.
  • These corridors have the potential to bring millions more into the tax base, as well as attract thousands more residents and create vibrant new parts of Minneapolis.

We saw what targeted public investment did along the Central Riverfront. We can do that again in these transit districts — and along Upper River, where a promising new park plan can open even more growth opportunities.

Investing in small business

We invest in people. We invest in the common ground. The third place invest is in small business.

Let’s me be clear. Minneapolis has business of all sizes and we work with all of them. Big business is a critical part of job growth and we are fortunate to have more Fortune 500 headquarters here than almost any other metro area in the country. We have worked closely with them to on making the city safer, improving our schools and growing STEP-UP and on the Downtown Improvement District, one of the most innovative and important public private initiatives we have ever undertaken. We are also working with them on Downtown 2025, a long term vision for Minneapolis.

But even more of our time, and all of the public investment we make directly with business, is spent with small business. Small business is the sweet spot of public private partnerships because it’s where the need is greatest and where we can help create the most jobs.

One of our most successful tools is the 2% Loan Program. Last fall, we made our 1,000th 2% to Blackbird Restaurant, when we helped owners Chris Stevens and Gail Mollner come back from a terrible fire at 50th and Bryant to a new home at an increasingly vibrant intersection at 38th and Nicollet.

The 1,000 2% loans we have made have helped create 2,000 jobs and retain 9,300 more and leveraged three times more in private investment. And 97% of them have been repaid in full — with interest.  

We also recognize that in a city where small food businesses once grew into General Mills and Pillsbury, the new food economy can also help build tomorrow’s jobs. That’s why we have helped start two community kitchens — Kindred Kitchen on West Broadway and Kitchen in the Market in the Global Market — to help home-based entrepreneurs take the next step toward commercializing their businesses and hiring employees. Later this year, we will launch the Homegrown Business Development Center to help small-batch manufacturers who use local ingredients develop and grow.

We have a couple challenges that are also a couple opportunities when it comes to growing small business.

The first is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship has always been important in our region — but it’s time to have a very blunt conversation about that, because Minneapolis–Saint Paul is not the hothouse of entrepreneurship we want it to be, and we are slipping. The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity shows that only four other states have a lower level of entrepreneurial activity. And an article in Sunday’s Star Tribune highlights that venture-capital investments in Minnesota companies are at the lowest level on record.

We have to turn this around, and fast. Fortunately, a number of entrepreneurship initiatives are taking shape across the public and private sectors:

  • We are working with St. Paul and regional business leaders on launching Accelerate MSP, an organization focused on creating new entrepreneurial opportunities here.
  • City staff connected the founders of CoCo, a local company that provides shared co-working space for entrepreneurs and startups, with Project Skyway, Minnesota’s first accelerator for startup software companies. I am pleased to announce today that they formed a partnership.  CoCo and Project Skyway will launch their inaugural class of software startups in a joint location this summer.
  • The Obama administration also announced yesterday The Small Business Administration is expanding its E200 Emerging Leaders mini-MBA program to Minneapolis. This free program will provide customized executive training to 20 promising metro-area entrepreneurs,and it puts this region in the center of the President’s $2-billion Startup America initiative directed at early-stage seed funding.

The second challenge, and opportunity, is exporting. Because only 1% of American businesses are involved in exports, and because the majority of them go only to Canada, President Obama set a goal in the State of the Union speech to double America’s exports in the next five years. A few weeks later, he sent Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Fred Hochberg, head of the U.S. Export Import Bank, to Minneapolis to meet with 300 local businesses that want to increase trade. I was in the room that day and was amazed how much networking there was, including some very promising leads for the city and new opportunities with key trade partners like India.   

The Obama Administration’s Ambassador to Sweden, Matthew Barzun, has also graciously agreed to host a reception at his home in Stockholm when I am there next month to help business from Sweden and Minnesota do business in the most Swedish city in America.

Our businesses tell us that personal diplomacy can be very helpful in opening foreign markets, and our sister-city relationships have never been more important. I want to thank a number of the Council members for helping to build these partnerships, especially the work that Council President Barb Johnson has done with Japan.

A good example of how all our small-business efforts, including promoting exports, come together is sailboat maker WindRider International. City economic-development first provided them with assistance in finding their site when they moved to Minneapolis last year from northern Minnesota. Then we made them a a 2% loan to help purchase production equipment. Not long thereafter, owner Dean Sandberg was approached with a possible order from Australia. He needed more background in exporting exported so we put him touch with the U.S. Commercial Service to help him vet potential partners and assess international markets. Now WindRider is exploring options in Chile, Dubai and Mexico. Meanwhile, they are hiring more employees in Minneapolis.

I’ve talked a lot about the City’s tools for to help small and midsize businesses grow — but we also play a role as a purchaser and a consumer of goods, and we work to buy local. In our new Hiawatha Public Works facility, we installed 2,000 square feet of VAST pavers, and purchased 8,000 square feet of repurposed, 100-year-old Douglas fir from Wood from the Hood for use as wainscoting. In addition, since 2007 the city has purchased more than $300,000 of Dero bike racks. We’re also working with the Itasca Project to develop directories of local manufacturers and service providers that the City, and all other businesses, can use.

But in one important respect, we need to do better.

Late last year, we got back the much-anticipated disparity study that we had commissioned to help us give women- and minority-owned businesses more help competing for city contracts.  The Disparity Study identified local vendors we can use and thoroughly examined the City’s procurement process.  Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel will begin working with community businesses next week, to help break down the barriers so economic prosperity reaches everyone in our community.

We need to invest in small business, but money isn’t always the only answer. As I said when I first ran for mayor, we need to “put down the checkbook and pick up the phone,” Minneapolis’ economic-development team is doing just that: They now track how many times how many contacts they have with local business: their total last year of 3,752 contacts was a four-fold increase, and their goal for this year is higher than that.

There are also times when we need to advocate for policy changes in the city and elsewhere than can let business to flourish. One of the great buildings in the city, the historic Grain Belt Brewery, stands both a reminder of our city’s past and how we can grow jobs in the future. Until last year, and unlike other cities in the area, Minneapolis did not allow sales of growlers of beer by packaging breweries — until we changed the ordinance, led by Council Member Gary Schiff. The result is that Harriet Brewery, whose growler we held up at the beginning of this speech, is now brewed in Minneapolis. I believe that similarly, the Legislature should make the changes in State law that will allow Surly Brewing Company to brew and sell beer in a new restaurant that I would like to see on a rejuvenated upper riverfront.  

We are doing a lot of work to keep people working. And there are two points to remember about these efforts.

First, remember who is doing the work. There’s great debate in our country right now about the role government should play in moving the economy forward. I’ve said here that government should work in partnership to set the stage for growth by making the critical investments that it can make best, but reasonable people can disagree.

This debate, however, should not be used as an opportunity to scapegoat public employees.

We need to make government more efficient and accountable than it has ever been: that’s what Results Minneapolis, our ground-breaking results-management system, is all about, and Minneapolis public employees have been our partner in that work. But we also need to acknowledge their knowledge and expertise. There’s something that we should say to the Minneapolis public employees who have 

  • gotten thousands of unemployed and underemployed workers back on the job;
  • built the common ground that helps everyone succeed, and kept it safe;
  • sought out and encouraged small businesses and start-ups;
  • and broken down barriers to make it easier to do business.

There’s something that we should say to the Minneapolis public employees who have helped create thousands of private-sector jobs and lay the groundwork for thousands more — and that something is “Good work, and thank you.”

So the first thing we need to remember is who is doing the work. The second thing we need remember is how we pay for this work. It’s clear by now that we have a strategy for growing our city, but we have to put our money where our mouth is.

Our spending on community and economic development equals just 1% of our budget—and while we do a whole lot with just a little, it’s still not enough. To make matters worse, the federal Community Development Block Grants that we used to support many of our efforts are about to take a big his in the federal budget.

Those grants aren’t the only help we get from the federal government. The Recovery Act has meant $63 million to Minneapolis for police officers, green jobs and stable neighborhoods, among many other benefits. Some quarters, it’s also meant nearly 700 more people with jobs — over 60% of whom have been Minneapolis residents. But for as important an impact these dollars have had, they’re temporary.

What we need, then, is a long-term plan to pay for our investments in growing the city, because we know that growing the city pays off. From 2008–2010, the overall value of the City’s tax base fell by $1 billion. But the cumulative value of commercial properties with City investments in them over the previous five years grew by $300 million. Sometimes you have to spend money to make money, and right now we haven’t put aside the money we need to make the investments that will help us grow into the kind of city we want to be.

For the past several months I have been working on that issue of a long term fund for growth.  There is no easy answer but this will be a key challenge we have to tackle in the upcoming budget.

I want to finish with an observation from a meeting I had a month ago with a great Minneapolis entrepreneur: Don Smithmeir. Don is a former Capella executive who has three startups and is about to launch a fourth: Sophia, an education-centered start-up that uses the internet and social media to make high-quality study materials on any topic available to students anywhere.

Don’s Warehouse District office overlooking Target Field with its high ceilings and open seating plan is just the kind of place you expect to find at the center of Minneapolis’ creative economy.

When I met with Don recently, he wasn’t asking for any direct City help, so I asked what he thought we could do to help improve the climate for attracting and retaining talent. He didn’t skip a beat: he laughed and said, “Change winter.”

Now we can’t change winter — but we can help change the perception of winter.  In fact I met with him the Monday after the City of Lakes Loppet: when 12,000 people spent a winter weekend in Minneapolis cross-country skiing, watching dog-sled racing and sharing a magical night when Lake of the Isles was ringed with luminaria.

The Loppet was not a government program to grow jobs; the City had nothing to do with it.  But in tough times like these, an event like this is not frivolous and has everything to do with creating the kind of talent climate we need to attract the people and businesses that help us grow. 

We are the city of the greatest park in baseball, new light rail lines and the promise of streetcars, an incomparable art scene, the country’s greatest urban parks, First Avenue, the Dakota, Nice Ride and many other events and amenities that make Minneapolis not just a great place to live — we already know that — but a great place to relocate, stay and grow.

So even in tough times — and especially because of them — we need to continue to build the creative climate that sparks the business that attracts the talent that creates the products and ideas that together, help us grow an even better Minneapolis.