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U.S.-Russia business conference in St. Paul scaled back amid Ukraine unrest

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Minnesota's plans to host "U.S. Russia Innovation Week" later this month remain on track, even though the State Department has postponed one of the central events amid the showdown over the situation in the Ukraine.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who is leading the planning of the conference, tells Finance & Commerce the week-long event is still a go. In fact Ritchie says strengthening U.S.-Russian cooperation in business and research is more important than ever given the recent political turmoil.

The U.S Russia Innovation Working Group was formed in 2009 and has held annual events. The Group met in Silicon Valley in 2012 and at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., last year, Finance & Commerce says.

This year's gathering in Minnesota was going to include a daylong event at 3M Co. in Maplewood. But the State Department postponed that as part of the Obama administration's move to suspend trade and investment talks with Russia.

Even though the session at 3M is off, organizers say the Innovation Expo will proceed on March 24 through 26. It will include panel discussions, a trade show, tours of innovative companies, and a matchmaking session aimed at forging partnerships between U.S. and Russian companies, universities, and non-profits.

The Blandin Foundation is among the groups taking part. They'll showcase their Community Broadband Program by offering tours at the Fond du Lac reservation near Cloquet.

In an interview with Russian Venture Company-USA, Ritchie fielded the "Why Minnesota?" question by pointing to ongoing innovations at large companies such as 3M, Medtronic, Mayo Clinics, Cargill, Target, General Mills and Ecolab.

He also touted the research institutes – or innovation centers – at many of the state's higher education campuses and mentioned medical technology, food safety, agriculture, and 3D printing as some of the areas where they excel.

Ritchie, who is not seeking another term as Secretary of State, also sees this month's expo as a stepping stone toward a larger goal: bringing a world's fair to Minnesota.

MinnPost reported recently on Ritchie's work with a group hoping to land a world's fair in 2023.

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