Broader Vision, Tighter Focus

Broader Vision, Tighter Focus

The Capital City Partnership takes a new director and a new direction.

Ever since its founding by 16 Twin Cities–area CEOs in 1996, the Capital City Partnership has had one leader: John Labosky. It’s also had one mission: to create a private-public partnership to revitalize downtown St. Paul, which at the time of the organization’s founding had been suffering from the loss of numerous businesses and a solid tax base. The group’s goals included expanding entertainment, arts, and culture; creating housing downtown; adding retail; and leasing existing office space.

To a degree, those goals have been accomplished. Downtown St. Paul attracted the Minnesota Wild, built a new Science Museum, and lured several major employers, including Lawson Software, Cray, and Gander Mountain. The number of people living in the central city has increased by 27 percent since 2000. And since 1996, over 1.85 million square feet of net office space have been absorbed, with 2.7 million square feet of new office space have been developed.

As is the case with most major American downtowns, retail has not made a comeback in St. Paul, though numerous bars and restaurants have opened near the Xcel Energy Center and in the Lowertown area.

With Labosky announcing his departure and Capital City Partnership sensing that its original mission had been fulfilled, the organization’s membership, which now comprises 36 metropolitan area corporations, decided to both narrow and broaden its activities.

Narrow, because the partnership will no longer be emphasizing cultural development in the central city, a role that once included managing the Taste of Minnesota festival. Its brief will now solely be economic development. But its mission will be broader, too: helping bring employers and investment not only to St. Paul but to the entire metro area. Its focus, however, will remain on the capital city.

“The time is really right” for a repositioned mission, says Louis Jambois, president and CEO of the Saint Paul Port Authority, the city’s economic development arm. Jambois says that the repurposed Capital City Partnership will help carry out the branding, marketing, and recruiting efforts overseen by a new regional economic development entity created last year under the auspices of the Itasca Project, the corporate-driven Minnesota public policy group. (On March 7, that entity named a CEO: Michael Langley, an economic development consultant.)

Leading the “new” Capital City Partnership is Joel Akason, who became executive director in February after nine years’ experience in economic development in Iowa. Akason will be focused on luring businesses outside of St. Paul into the metropolitan area. “Outsiders look at regions,” Akason asserts. “They don’t look at municipalities.”

Those outsiders include site selection consultants in large enterprises that seek opportunities to expand or relocate. To seal deals, Akason will be working with the City of St. Paul, the Saint Paul Port Authority, other government agencies, and Capital City Partnership members, among others.

Collaboration is necessary, Akason says, because St. Paul competes in a global economy. Akason says that he’ll cheer when any metro-area city attracts business, but “I’m going to fight like crazy for that project to land in St. Paul.”