Opinion
Column TM

A Big 'If'

Minnesota can lead the health and wellness revolution if we get more aggressive. The question is, will we?

A Big 'If'

Minnesotans have an opportunity of Silicon Valley proportions. But we’re not going to capitalize on it.

Let’s start with the most cliché Steve Jobs quote to emphasize the importance of the opportunity: “Eat your food as your medicine. Otherwise you have to eat medicine as your food.” Food and the land to produce it are central to our ability to live longer, healthier lives. We are facing meaty (tofu-y?) challenges and therefore great opportunities for a community taking the lead in this healthy living movement—a regional economic development movement, potentially comparable to the tech movement in Silicon Valley.

The Twin Cities business community has an economic three-legged stool that could serve as the foundation for a health and wellness revolution: food, ag, and medical. If you’re not fond of three-legged stools, add a few more, like fitness (Life Time, Anytime, Snap, and Alchemy), retail (Target, Best Buy, and SuperValu), and creative arts (the Minnesota Orchestra, the Guthrie, and Mia). We have a stable foundation on which to build a regional economy the world would envy.

Back to the three fundamental legs. Agriculture is facing a technological revolution with satellites and drones scanning land for better crop rotation and harvesting data on soil health. Farmers have access to self-driving combines (Skynet branded) for planting and harvesting crops and an abundance of technological solutions to help manage the business of farming.

There’s a future on the near horizon where farmers are more lighthouse keepers than laborers, tending a sea of green and overseeing machines programmed to do the hard work of farming. The region we occupy here in the breadbasket has fertile land and a robust knowledge base at universities. We can continue to lead efforts for regenerative farming that help transition acres back to more organic condition. We have companies like Land O’Lakes, Pipeline Foods, and Cargill that profoundly influence our potential as a leading global community.

We also have the intersection, or overlap, of both the ag and health sectors, as evident at the Manova Summit on health and wellness, led by Mark Addicks, the former CMO of General Mills. This isn’t surprising; the people at General Mills understand that a desirable, healthy product leads to healthy profits.

For the third leg, think Mayo, Medtronic, and UnitedHealth Group. Minnesota’s tradition of innovation, powerhouse research university, and community are an impressive foundation on which to build a global health and wellness reputation, not to mention all the smaller med-tech companies and startups. We’ve made some amazing medical breakthroughs and can claim improving, or even saving, thousands if not millions of lives. Maple Grove-based MicroOptx Inc., for example, has come up with a surgical procedure to cure glaucoma, for Christmas’ sake—how amazing are we?

Shifting metaphors, now we have all the ingredients for an amazing economic stew, the kind to keep us warm for many winters to come. What’s next? The suggestions below are inspired by a few sources I’ve spoken to in recent weeks.

  • More cross-investment between health, food, and agriculture. This one comes from marketing vice president David Tucci at Minneapolis-based healthy snack company SunOpta. Let’s see more medical funds in food and more food funds in agriculture.
  • Incorporating more liberal arts in the way we learn and grow, where “you learn many things to be able to do anything.” (Stole that one from Notre Dame’s liberal studies program, but it makes the point; also, go, Irish!)
  • Stop leading with Minnesota weather and start with what our amazing people are capable of: solving really complex problems while stuck inside enduring the cold. (And stop using the phrase “We’re hearty folk.” Seriously, that’s about as sexy as my reference to stew above.) “Perhaps we’re too humble here in Minnesota,” says General Mills CEO and chairman of the board Jeff Harmening. Why don’t we hear more bragging about Minnesota? Humility is good, but seriously, people, let’s start entering rooms like we’re John Snow and Arya Stark: “Don’t look at me sideways, I’m from the North.”

Why don’t we hear more bragging about Minnesota? Humility is good, but seriously, people, let’s start entering rooms like we’re John Snow and Arya Stark: “Don’t look at me sideways, I’m from the North.”

We’re not going to take our efforts to the next level. Here’s the kick in the part of your Minnesota pride that hurts a little: We’re just not up for it. We’d rather complain about the weather, talk about how this winter compared to the last one, and look with envy to cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston—while residents I meet in those places always talk with admiration for what comes from Minnesota.

In fact, they have nothing on us; for that matter, New York is the Minnesota of the East Coast. I dare you to drop that one next time you’re in the so-called Big Apple. I dare you to brag about our community, without starting with the weather. Prove me wrong.


Aaron Keller (aaronkeller@capsule.us) is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule (capsule.us), a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand, physicsofbrand.com.