Minnesota business leaders brainstorm ways to grow economy

At a time when Minnesota has the lowest unemployment rate of any state ever, how can the state continue to grow businesses and bring new key players into different industries?

A group of business leaders aimed to answer that question during a round table discussion Thursday.

Businesses have faced challenge after challenge in recent years, from unrest to COVID-19.

"We're coming out of the darkest days of the pandemic. We knew that much of the pandemic had disrupted our economy," said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

At a round table Thursday, business leaders came together to talk about ways to grow Minnesota's economy over the next decade. Their discussion came the same week the governor’s economic council outlined its 10-year economic plan.

"We need every worker we can get in this economy. We need every opportunity we can get," said Paul Williams, president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living.

One of the main focuses was on addressing systemic barriers so that people from all backgrounds can start and grow their businesses. 

It’s a story Jazz Hampton, CEO of Turnsignl, and his business partners know all too well.

Their app, Turnsignl, launched last year. When someone is pulled over, the app connects them to an attorney 24/7 365. The idea was born out of a need they saw in their community.

"What I see is a story of Turnsignl, of three black men leaving their professional careers to start a business," Hampton said. "It isn't easy to leave a job as an attorney at a national law firm to do this and to take the risk."

The business leaders stressed there more resources need to be given toward people of color to take that same risk, through start-up grants or other means. There also needs to be investments in things like child care, broadband and innovation.

"We have historically low unemployment in Minnesota. Productivity's going to be a huge part of the formula, and that is why technology investment is so important," said Scott Burns, CEO and co-founder of Structural.

Another idea Burns threw around was the importance of having better marketing of the state.

"Minnesota has really good products and solutions sometimes, but we maybe aren't telling the story of them enough. You have to sell them, market them, connect people to them," Burns said. "I think to put it simply I'd like to drive to South Dakota and see a billboard for Minnesota."