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Minnesota needs a business development commissioner

If our Governor and our state is serious about not just promoting Minnesota but making Minnesota an attractive place to do business, then Minnesota needs a cabinet level commissioner focused on business development...
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By John Alexander

If our Governor and our state is serious about not just promoting Minnesota but making Minnesota an attractive place to do business; if our representatives are serious about encouraging businesses to both move here and expand here; if we want more jobs, more choice in jobs and increased diversity in types of businesses here; then Minnesota needs a cabinet level commissioner focused on business development.

The Governor’s duties are too broad and like a CEO, he is responsible for it all but he can not do it all. Likewise, the Commissioner of DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development) has many responsibilities and, in addition to the skill set difference, does not have the bandwidth to on this role.

Most corporations needing to create new businesses, bring in technologies, develop strategic alliances, acquire and divest have a dedicated person in the business development role. I know this from personal experience having held this role in large public and emerging medical technology companies.

We need an executive with a focused charter. By executive, I do mean a senior person of deep and related business experience rather than purely political experience. CEOs need to see this individual as a peer. He needs to be able to communicate on their level and fully understand (not just listen to) their needs and concerns.

He should be an executive who has demonstrable experience in negotiating in the CEO-suite, who understands how to negotiate, who has thought not just the terms of a relationship between a State and a company but through both the short and long-term ramifications of these types of relationships. He must have the process down cold.

This skill set, activity and role is too important to either roll into a current position or delegate it to a current member of the political class – regardless of party. This role is just too important to risk another demonstration that they do not understand the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Examples of nature’s enforcement of the law on poorly thought through deals are many: but double blocking of gates at MSP to prevent other airlines from providing service when Northwest went on strike and providing tax advantages to Northwest that did not impeded Delta from moving the operations out of Minnesota are two examples with just one company.

The Commissioner of Business Development’s charter should be simple:
Get businesses to move to MN to create jobs and improve the tax base
Get current businesses to expand here to create jobs and improve the tax base

So what would he do to accomplish this?

Contact all major businesses headquartered in Minnesota and ask what can be done to encourage them to expand here (not necessarily money).

This means proactively paying attention to them and letting them know how important they are to Minnesota, that we appreciate them being here and being a good corporate citizen It also would not be a bad idea to encourage the state representatives and senators to pay a visit.

The Governor could also be brought in to pay attention to them in a positive way at the right time to encourage the right action.

Contact any business nationwide considering a move or expansion and ask what they need to move here.

He needs to keep an ear to the ground to assure we don’t miss an opportunity to capture a company willing to relocate. He needs to be ready to pitch our state fully armed with not just comparative demographics but an attractive tax, regulatory, and infrastructure structure.

Contact all business groups; what can we do to make running a business easier [while preserving necessary regulatory oversight, safety, etc].

While I understand the state house has a project of this type now, a Commissioner might heighten the attention.

Work with all agencies to streamline, facilitate retention and recruitment of jobs throughout the state.

Benchmark other states which have been successful in retaining expansion projects from employers in the state as well as attracting new employers to the state to determine reforms and programs needed to make Minnesota more attractive.

Businesses have to benchmark their competition to improver their products, services and prices. This is small world – becoming smaller. Before Minnesota can effectively compete against the rest of the world it need to be competitive with the other states. Both are moving targets.

The Governor, Commissioner of DEED, and both houses of the legislator need to support his activities if we are to see favorable change in this area. Recommendations that come out of the steps above need to be addressed promptly and with a positive pro-business as well as pro-jobs attitude / underlying philosophy.

Creation of this role by the Governor and endorsement by the legislator would be a very positive message, welcomed by business across the nation, sending the message that Minnesota is serious about attracting and keeping business (and jobs).

John Alexander is President of Business Development Advisors, Founder and Chair of the Twin Cities Angels, and business author of the Angel Investment Tax Credit.
Email him at:

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