The Minneapolis-Saint Paul Regional Economic Forum
Thursday, April 14th, 2011
Over 200 government and business leaders gathered at General Mills on April 14 to hear about plans for economic development in the region. Speakers included: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, 4FRONT founder and chair John Foley and MSP Regional Economic Development Partnership CEO Michael Langley. The event highlighted various initiatives going on in the region and was designed to start a conversation between business and government leadership to help our region become more competitive in a global market.
the line follows up with 4FRONT
Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
In our October 13, 2010 issue, Chris Steller talked with John Foley, founder and CEO of the branding and marketing agency Level, about 4Front, his initiative to give the Twin Cities a more prominent place on the world map of innovation by creating a combination showcase and prize. As Foley explained it, the idea is to stage yearly celebrations of local innovation in four areas--food, health, design, and the arts--that are established strengths here, and to invite promising but not-yet-famous innovators in these areas from around the world to compete for a yearly prize. Foley assembled a star-studded board of directors and they went to work promoting the idea in the local business, government, and nonprofit communities.
The Line checked in with Foley last week to see how the project is going.
The Line: John, where is 4Front now?
John Foley: We're in the throes of fundraising, talking to the major funders. Our first public event is going to be in the fall—October 27. It will be a kind of trailer—one evening showing what's next in food, health, design, and the arts. It's not going to be an awards show—more of a mini-launch. It will show supporters and donors something of what the fully developed event will be like. Our board will develop criteria for what's next in these fields and then invite local firms and individuals to participate.
To date we've also done somewhere between twenty and thirty presentations to various groups about 4Front, from the private sector to the public sector and everything in between, and we've gotten uniformly terrific response to the concept.
The Line: Who are some of the people you've presented to?
John Foley: 3M, General Mills, the State Fair Board, the City Manager's office in Minneapolis, a number of other community and business groups. A nice mix of public sector, private sector, and nonprofits. What we're seeing across the stakeholder groups is this uniform desire to do something. We know that we need to do something.
The Line: Sounds like there's some urgency there.
John Foley: What's really resonating with the people we've talked to is the concern that we are falling behind in innovation—and we don't want to be irrelevant twenty years from now. What's also resonating is the idea that we need to be serious about global competition—that as a region we are competing with Hong Kong and Paris and other global cities. After all, if you're a creative, a scholar, an artist, or an entrepreneur, you can live anywhere in the world.
2ThinkNow is an organization out of Melbourne, Australia, and they rank cities in terms of their innovativeness, by a number of different measures. According to them, in 2009 Minneapolis/Saint Paul was 32nd in innovation out of 256 cities globally; we fell to 45th in 2010. The reason is that certain cities woke up and said, we have to be much more aggressive about making sure that we're attracting the world-class inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, and scholars to live in our region.
A New Partnership Model?
The Line: On that head, I believe that you're talking about shifting your focus from just awarding prizes for innovation to a sort of artist-in-residence or visionary-in-residence model.
John Foley: That's right. One of the things we've talked about is, if somebody wins a 4Front prize, instead of just giving them cash, we would also provide an opportunity for the winner to work with a major organization here—so the winners would have resources to help them develop their ideas. They would come and live and work here for a while. We talked a lot about that and our whole board felt that was the right direction to go. We're looking to set up partnerships here that would be game-changing, career-changing, for the winners of our prizes.
The Line: So how will the competition, the prize, and the residency help the Twin Cities?
John Foley: There are two ways to answer that. Of course we want creative people to come and live here. But more than that, just like a sports team, we need to be scouting. We need to find out who's the next Earl Bakken, Medtronic's founder. Who's the next William McKnight of 3M? We need to identify those people and make sure that they're getting the support and nurturing they need to live and work here. Our prize winners could be local—my preference would be for somebody who's already here as opposed to trying to persuade somebody to move from Paris to Minneapolis. But we need to open it up globally because we need to see who's there and what's going on. The Itasca Project is looking at companies moving here; we're looking for individuals, individuals of high potential whom we'd like to attract.
Then the second part—and it's really important--is showcasing our market to the rest of the world in the areas of food, health, design, and the arts. So there's an opportunity for people around the world to know what we're doing.
I'm getting ahead of myself here, because until we get funding I don't know where it will go—but it could be like a world's fair every year; maybe it ends up as part of the marketing of the Radisson hotels around the world, or 3M uses it around the world as part of sales presentations focusing on innovation. There are all sorts of outreach things that we can do that both help our local companies and, at the same time, shine a light back on this region. Our celebration of what's next in food, health, design, and the arts becomes a kind of South By Southwest of innovation.
The Line: Thanks, John.
John Foley's 4Front festival: turning our towns into world centers of creativity
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Can Minneapolis and St. Paul compete with the likes of Tokyo, and Amsterdam in attracting talented artists, inventors, and entrepreneurs to live and work here? We're already competing at that level, says John Foley, founder of a new nonprofit organization called 4Front--we just have to start acting like it.
Foley has gathered what he calls "a remarkable board, a really good board" of local heavy hitters to dream up and pull off a new annual event dedicated to drawing creative people to the Twin Cities, and nurturing them once they're here. The 4Front event will be part symposium, part celebration, and part awards competition, Foley says, with "awards that are prestigious enough that they're game-changers."
4Front is taking its mission of fostering an extraordinary culture of creativity and innovation to four areas of enterprise: food, health, design and the arts. Foley wants locals to pull together on our communal bootstraps with the same energy that built the Twin Cities in the 19th century and led to the rise of innovative companies such as Medtronic, General Mills, and Best Buy.
The Line visited Foley last month at the offices of Level, his brand and marketing firm in Minneapolis' Warehouse District, shortly after the official launch of 4Front.
The Line: We're really going to compete with Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Paris?
Foley: We have to. We are right now. I mean, it's not an option. It isn't opt-in, opt-out. We're competing today--it's just that we're losing.
I don't know how you can sort of say, well, we've decided not to compete with certain cities around the world when as a creative, I can live anywhere. As an inventor, I get to decide. People live different places for different reasons. Maybe somebody doesn't want to live in Amsterdam or Tokyo. And that's where we have to tell our story.
It's About Talent, Not Taxes
Foley: If we look at the economic engines of 1990 to 2010, what these companies have in common is that they are homegrown. Twenty of the 22 Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota are homegrown. The mythology that we need to lower taxes to attract business just isn't true. It doesn't work that way. What we need to do is attract and retain talent. It's all about individuals. These companies look like monoliths, but every one of those has a story behind it of one or two people or a group of people who had a shared vision and values, and started a company.
And so the question is: How do we get the next [Medtronic founder] Earl Bakken? How do we identify them? How do we get them to move and live here when they can live anywhere in the world? We're in this race that we're falling behind in. Which brings us to 4Front.
Our mission is to foster an extraordinary culture of creativity and innovation in our area. And when we say a culture--we need to give the whole community permission to be creative. If you live in Amsterdam and you ask people, "Do you live in a creative community? Are you creative?" they'll say yes. Well, that's not true here. We just don't think of ourselves as being a creative community. We need to build that sense of creativity. It's here, but it's not shared.
The Line: Food and health. Design and arts. They seem to sort of cluster together.
Foley: Yeah. The board got together, and there seemed to be eight or nine potential categories. But we focused on things not only where we can prove that we're already in a leadership position but also in areas where we could make an immediate impact.
We have these incredible companies here that are already excelling. And we want to leverage that. It's the marriage of art and commerce. It's not unlike what was going on in Florence during the Renaissance. If we can coordinate that and attract the right people to come and live here because we have these prizes and these opportunities, it's going to help grow the region.
Sundance Meets SXSW
The Line: How does 4Front move its focus between big Fortune 500 companies and individual inventors and artists who haven't moved here yet?
Foley: There will be a call for entries, so part of it's through the awards system. We need to start [with the big companies] because the funding starts there.
We're going to have a food advisory board, a health advisory board, a design advisory board. And we'll have a committee that's responsible for reaching out to the other, smaller arts organizations. We want to be really inclusive. It's not just about bigs. The bigs are going to help us go out to the world. But the smaller ones, they could be living here right now. We need to be culturally diverse and we need to be age-diverse.
We sort of want to be the Sundance Festival for the emerging artists and entrepreneurs in these areas. It's Sundance meets SXSW, if you will. But it isn't the Aspen [Institute Festival] because it isn't just big thought-leaders coming together and spewing stuff and going home. This is much more proactive and collaborative. The symposiums will be interactive, where you have professionals talking about issues and trying to do things. And the celebration will be just that, a real celebration at a community level.
No More "Mindianapolis"
The Line: What is the story that's been getting out about Minneapolis-St. Paul?
Foley: I bet most people know us around sports. They get these little snapshots of us when we have national sports events or a national political convention. But I've had people in New York say to me, "You live in Mindianapolis." People are surprised by what we have--so we've done a poor job telling that part of the story. I do a lot of speaking on the east and west coasts. Most people there haven't heard of Medtronic. So there's a lot of work to be done. We want to have this celebration, showcase what we've got, get national sponsors, do a good job of working on international public relations.
The Line: You own Level, a brand and marketing communications firm. How much of the problem that 4Front is trying to address is, in a sense, a branding problem?
Foley: Initially it's a significant issue. Because we had to come up with a name for the nonprofit. And we had to understand our positioning--how are we different from the competition? We had to develop the website and the materials to get this thing up and running. There's still brand work to do because we're just getting launched. As we're showcasing Minneapolis St. Paul, that's a dimension of brand. But ultimately I don't know that it's about brand. I mean, SXSW is a brand, but it's really about activities, just like Sundance. The question is, what will people learn about Minneapolis St. Paul? If we're successful, they'll learn that we're the epicenter of health, design, food, and the arts.
And that's where the celebration comes in. Another analogy is that 4Front is a kind of a mini-world's fair. It's this place where you get to see what's next in food, what's next in health, design, and the arts. And to take some pride in the fact that it's happening here.
Innovators, Aggregators, and Everybody Else
The Line: Is 4Front your brainchild?
Foley: Yeah, but with a huge asterisk. I put a board together of really, really, really smart people. And I said to them: I have a half-baked idea and it's half-baked on purpose. There's some things we need to do but you need to help me figure out how to make it really great. And people like [General Mills CMO] Mark Addicks and [University of Minnesota architecture dean] Tom Fisher are just world-class brains. They took that idea and we kept expanding it and polishing it and shaping it. So it's not any one person's idea anymore. This is really a collaborative effort.
The Line: You mentioned age diversity. We want both ends and the middle?
Foley: This is my opinion. Great creativity happens at a pretty young age. If you look at any creative industry, everybody gets about 10 years of what I'd call really great creativity where, if you've got it, you're doing the really great work. And then as we get older, we're good aggregators. I'm a good aggregator. I can see patterns. I can see relationships. I can see how this relates to that. It's a different skill set. It's important to have both. So this age diversity's critical.
When's the last time that Elton John wrote a hit? But I think in 1972 he wrote about 50. That's the nature of creativity. It's a young person's business.
The Line: In a sense, that's the audience for 4Front--a young audience,
Foley: Well, there are different stakeholder groups. That's one audience. That's the audience of emerging talent that we need to identify and bring here. But you also need the support of the community, community involvement. And you need the aggregators who are connecting the dots and understanding how that will further our community. What infrastructures do we need to build?
There's a role for everyone. It's not like there's only one thing to do. This is a work in progress. You gotta be audacious. Mark Addicks said that if this whole thing isn't world-class it's kind of not worth doing. And he's right.
Chris Steller is Development editor of The Line.
New Initiative to Showcase Twin Cities as Premier Center of Creativity and Innovation
Local Business Leaders Launch 4FRONT to Identify and Attract Talent and Nurture New Ideas in Areas of Food, Health, Design and the Arts.
MINNEAPOLIS (September 14, 2010) — Several Twin Cities’ business leaders joined Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak today at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design to launch 4FRONT, a new initiative that aims to identify, attract and nurture emerging inventors, entrepreneurs and artists to work and live in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area.
"4FRONT will be a wellspring for attracting and retaining the creative class necessary for our region to compete in a global economy," said John Foley founder and Executive Director of 4FRONT. "We have already gathered a team of local thought leaders and innovators who have come together in our common goal to showcase the Twin Cities as a center for innovation and creativity."
A key component of 4FRONT's plan is an annual event, beginning in 2012, that will include a series of professional symposiums and public celebrations focusing on what's next in food, health, design and the arts. An annual awards program, judged by internationally renowned experts with ties to Minnesota, will recognize the work of entrepreneurs, inventors and artists in these same categories.
"We are fortunate to live in an area that has nurtured some of the most talented people and most admired companies in the world," said Mike Hess 4FRONT board member and Vice President Innovation Excellence at Medtronic. "With 4FRONT, we want to foster the Twin Cities' culture of innovation and creativity and continue the legacy of collaboration as we support each other to do great things."
4FRONT's Board of Directors includes representation from General Mills, Cargill, 3M, University of Minnesota, Medtronic, The Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Vocalessence, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, MSP Communications, MacPhail Center for Music and Minnesota Public Radio.