Itasca Project to Connect Area’s Large and Small Cos.

The first Minnesota Suppliers Showcase will kick off on May 24; it will convene small suppliers and sourcing departments with large corporate and government purchasers in the hopes that the two parties may form partnerships.

The Itasca Project-a conglomeration of more than 50 Minnesota CEOs, public-sector officials, and leaders from area foundations-said Monday that it has launched an initiative that aims to build stronger relationships between growing businesses and large companies.

To this end, it created the Minnesota Supplier Showcase-a forum that will periodically convene large corporate and government purchasers with small suppliers and sourcing departments that have demonstrated the ability to serve them. Each showcase will focus on specific industry categories, and the hope is that the two parties may form partnerships.

The first showcase will take place Tuesday at the Fridley headquarters of Medtronic, Inc.-one of 20 Fortune 500 companies in the Twin Cities. The event will focus on companies in the computer services and information technology service delivery space. Small and growing companies must apply and be selected to participate in a showcase.

The Minnesota Suppliers Showcase was the brainchild of the members of the Itasca Project Job Growth Task Force-a group that initiated the Minneapolis Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership in September (although the organization wasn't named until its CEO was announced in March).

Small-business leaders told task force members that one of their significant challenges is gaining access to large companies. Securing large companies as clients can greatly impact a company's revenue stream and enhance its credibility with investors and other clients-yet it can be tough for small companies to get their foot in the door with the corporate giants they'd like to serve.

“Small and emerging local suppliers can often provide superior service, high levels of innovation and customization, and competitive prices,” Chris O'Connell, executive vice president and group president at Medtronic, said in a statement. “It's just a matter of identifying those local firms, out of the many potential suppliers, who would best meet our needs.”

Following the inaugural Minnesota Suppliers Showcase event on May 24, the Itasca Project will continue to convene large companies and smaller suppliers and sourcing departments on a periodic basis. Featured suppliers will have differentiated products, have demonstrated the ability to serve large companies, and have the potential to grow jobs in Minnesota, according to the Itasca Project.

More than 80 companies were nominated for the first Minnesota Suppliers Showcase. The nine finalists are: Golden Valley-based Ajasa Technologies, Minneapolis-based Ambient Consulting, Edina-based Benchmark QA, Minneapolis-based Code42 Software, Edina-based ILM Services, Inc., Minneapolis-based Packet Power, River Falls, Wisconsin-based Sajan, Inc., Minneapolis-based SPS Commerce, and Eden Prairie-based YSL/Yugma.com.

The Itasca Project-which launched its job growth task force in 2009-is an employer-led alliance aimed at attracting, expanding, and retaining businesses in the Twin Cities' 13-county metro area.

The Itasca Project chair is Mary Brainerd, president and CEO of HealthPartners. Leaders of the task force are Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairwoman of Carlson; Ken Powell, chairman and CEO of General Mills; Michael Gorman, managing director of Split Rock Partners; and O'Connell.