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Our View: Minnesota missing the mark on marketing Minnesota

From the editorial: "'It feels like we bring a knife to a gunfight and that we have to have a bake sale every time we want to attend a marketing event'."

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Marian Kamensky / Cagle Cartoons

With reliable Wi-Fi and a laptop, many workers can work pretty much anywhere, regardless of where their employer may maintain an office. Two years of norms-altering, world-changing pandemic has taught us this, among many other things.

So there may be no moment more critical than now for states like Minnesota to be out there, aggressively promoting themselves, wooing industries, business startups, and workers who now have more mobility than ever and work-life flexibility and options like never before.

Disappointingly, our state spends only about $150,000 a year on marketing and business promotion, in particular for events and sponsorships. The cash doesn’t go far and clearly isn’t having enough impact.

Encouragingly, lawmakers this legislative session are being asked to bump that spending up by a cool $1 million, a slice of $4.5 million Gov. Tim Walz has proposed investing in such things. With the state sitting on a record budget surplus of nearly $9.3 billion, optimism is high for the increase.

“Yes, it’s a lot of money. No one is taking $1 million for granted,” Brian Hanson, president and CEO of the private Duluth economic development agency APEX, said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page. “But if we were to put $1 million a year toward marketing our state, we would at least get on a level playing field with surrounding states. And we’d be helping folks like me who are going out and telling our story.”

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Selling Minnesota to prospective industries and workers often means individuals like Hanson and private entities like APEX footing the bill themselves, much to the surprise and amusement of economic-development competitors from other states.

“It feels like we bring a knife to a gunfight and that we have to have a bake sale every time we want to attend a marketing event,” Hanson said. “APEX and other organizations pitch in money because our state DEED (the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) is woefully underfunded, especially when it comes to marketing.”

Hanson is in St. Paul this week, and was there last week, meeting with DEED Commissioner Steve Grove and others in hopes of getting that $1 million earmarked before lawmakers adjourn in May.

In a commentary in the News Tribune in February, Grove acknowledged the lack of “marketing dollars to promote Minnesota to key audiences, something other states do all the time.

“It is critical,” he wrote, “to share our message with those who'd consider moving to our state. … One thing is certain: In this moment of economic fluidity, we can't afford to sit back and hope that Minnesota will come out on top. For far too long, Minnesota has been too humble about our considerable strengths.”

In addition to seeking more marketing dollars, an online business- and worker-attracting platform, joinusmn.com, was recently launched by DEED.

“Our strong business climate, our talented workforce, and our quality of life all contribute to the case for, ‘Why Minnesota?’” Grove wrote. “The platform has a host of resources for what Minnesota offers, as well as rankings, stories, and regional snapshots.”

Here’s a concerning snapshot: Last year, Minnesota lost approximately 13,000 residents, according to the Minnesota state demographer. This continued a trend of outmigration that has been dogging the state for at least two decades, as the Minnesota Chamber’s “Minnesota 2030” report last April detailed.

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“Business starts, on the other hand,” Grove pointed out in his commentary, “have increased significantly in Minnesota. Entrepreneurs started 42% more businesses last year than in 2019. People are trying new things here and hoping to build Minnesota's next Fortune 500, which would bring new jobs and opportunity.”

But they’ll only come if they’re made aware of all that Minnesota has to offer. That includes “Minnesota as the ‘problem-solving capital’ of the country,” Grove wrote. “It's an idea backed by data: We have one of the hardest-working workforces in the country and one of the best business-survivability rates in the nation. … People here care about what they do. The result is an economy that has punched far above its weight for a long time, leading to many world-changing innovations in medicine, technology, agriculture, and beyond.”

The pandemic changed a lot of things, including where many of us work and how business is conducted. There’s flexibility like never before. We’re at what Grove called “a critical juncture in the global economy,” one that “demands bold action by states wanting to author the next chapter. And that means attracting more people and more business.”

A bolder investment can help make that happen.

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DNT

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