The Itasca Project tackles issues that can positively impact the economic competitiveness, expand prosperity for all, and quality of life in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region. Our engagement is dynamic; we evaluate our activities and assess our commitments annually. We initiate activity only when we believe that Itasca Project participation can make a difference and at least one business executive has committed to leading the charge. Every effort we undertake is built on a shared fact base and involves regional collaboration.
Below is an overview of select engagements by year since Itasca Project’s inception in 2004.
Minnesota Young American Leaders Project
The Minnesota Young American Leaders Program is an intensive, two-and-a-half day program at the University of Minnesota convening approximately fifty rising leaders from across business, non-profit organizations and government who are committed to working across sectors to help their communities and our region prosper inclusively. The program interweaves case studies, insights from national and Minnesota practitioners of cross-sector leadership, diverse perspectives on our current state economy, and research presentations from scholars of inclusive economic development and the future of work. Growing from a partnership among the Itasca Project, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrative Leadership, and the Harvard Business School, the Program shares themes as well as selected faculty and content with Harvard Business School’s Young American Leaders Program, which includes cohorts from fourteen city cohorts across the nation. The Minnesota Young American Leaders Program provides an opportunity to bring rising leaders together to focus specifically not only on the inclusive economic development of their city, but also on challenges and opportunities of common concern to all generations across our state and region.
For more information, please visit the mYALP website or the Harvard Business School’s US Competitiveness page.
Events and Sports (2018-present)
Over the past decade, the Twin Cities has entered a new landscape of opportunity by playing host to large, high profile sporting events. Events – not only sporting events but also arts, music, and cultural events – provide opportunities to generate economic benefit, raise our region’s profile, and strengthen our civic fabric. This prompted the Itasca Project to ask “What could be the potential impact from developing a sustainable events and sports economy for our region, and state, and what would be required to realize that opportunity?” To answer that question, an Events and Sports task team was formed. See the report on their findings here.
Housing Affordability (2018-present)
Four Itasca participants sat on the Governor’s Housing Task Force, which met over the course of 2018, and issued a report with recommendations to improve housing affordability across the state. See their recommendations here. In 2019, Itasca is convening a task force to identify ways to advance a handful of specific recommendations, around the themes of inform, innovate, and engage.
Great Minnesota Schools (2018-present)
Itasca is proud to be supporting the work of Great Minnesota Schools, which focuses on increasing the number of high performing schools in Minneapolis. For more information, see their website .
North Minneapolis (2017-present)
Due to decades of disinvestment and systemic barriers, the north Minneapolis community has not benefited from the prosperity of the rest of the region. In 2016, Itasca brought together a business-community leader partnership focused on identifying pathways to create jobs and spur economic development to benefit current north Minneapolis residents. In 2018, in part due to that work in north Minneapolis, the Center for Economic Inclusion was launched as the nation's first organization dedicated exclusively to advancing inclusive growth to achieve regional prosperity. The Center is a cross-sector organization committed to strengthening the Minneapolis-St. Paul region’s civic infrastructure and collective capacity to disrupt systems and influence market forces to catalyze shared prosperity and an inclusive economy.
Additionally, in 2020, our participants hope to launch the Northside Mezzanine Fund which looks to provide a below-market rate gap financing option for game-changing commercial real estate projects. The fund is designed for small-to-medium size developers who are dedicated to improving economic vibrancy in north Minneapolis.
– The Itasca Project and Marnita’s Table partnered in 2018 to bring GenConnect to our community. GenConnect is an initiative to connect diverse people who may never have met before but who share similar interests and concerns to facilitate deeper conversations and build capacity for collaborative undertakings. Hosts and co-hosts are holding dinner parties with support from Marnita’s Table and the Itasca Project and together with their guests and community members, over great food, ultimately creating and supporting ongoing relationships that catalyze participants to work together more effectively toward actionable equity-building efforts within our community.
Career and College Readiness (2015-present)
This taskforce explored opportunities where employers can help students graduate from high school ready to succeed in their post-secondary education and careers. The taskforce identified three areas in which to act to promote readiness: inspiration and awareness, youth employment, and staying connected after graduation. The focus of the work today is developing ConnextMSP, an alumni association of participants of internship programs to strengthen their connectivity to employers and to each other.
Measuring Regional Progress (2014-present)
Itasca participants worked with several partners to create the MSP Regional Indicators Dashboard, a set of shared, objective metrics that track the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region’s overall success on critical economic and quality of life measures. This dashboard provides a clear view of our current competitive position, as well as trend information that illuminates what the future may hold. It provides accountability for making progress on these critical metrics. Ultimately, it will lead to better coordination and collaboration across shared regional priorities. Having such a dashboard is a global best practice, and Itasca participants take pride in co-creating a data-driven conversation about our region’s competitiveness.
Closing Socioeconomic Employment Gaps
(2015-16 and ongoing)
This initiative built on Itasca Project's previous work in socioeconomic disparities. It brought together private, public and nonprofit sector leaders to identify specific, near-term steps employers can
take to close the employment and labor force participation gaps between whites and people of color in the region. The task force focused on defining the regional "business case" for addressing disparities, catalyzing broad regional leadership commitment, and elevating best practices. (See report here.) In addition, Itasca partnered with Wilder Foundation to convene a cross-sector cohort of CEOs to focus on the role of leadership in advancing diversity and inclusion in their organizations.
Since the cohorts launched, five cohorts of CEOs / executive leaders have met, and Wilder has taken on facilitation completely. New this year, Wilder has launched a cohort for HR leaders, to complement the CEO cohort. In addition, Wilder has set a goal of 150 CEOs and senior leaders graduating from cohorts, reaching 500,000 employees by 2021.
Aligning Education and Training with Employers' Workforce Needs (2013-15)
The Itasca Project launched the Workforce Alignment task force in response to a need to better match academic offerings with current and future workforces. The gap was identified in the Higher Education Partnerships for Prosperity white paper. (See report here.) The Workforce Alignment Team steering committee consisted of 20+ members across the private sector, education sector, public sector and philanthropy. The task force started its work to close the talent gap by conducting a diagnostic of more than 600 stakeholders within the Minnesota talent ecosystem to understand what decisions they were making and to identify the information that could help them make more-informed decisions. The research highlighted the need for more current, granular, easy-to-use labor market information. The team conducted pilots with higher education institutions and workforce centers in Minnesota to test the impact of bringing real-time data to curriculum decision-makers.
Based on the results of the pilots across more than 25 institutions in 2014, the Itasca Project partnered with several public and private institutions to co-fund and co-launch Real Time Talent, a new entity focused on creating more informed, market-oriented decisions throughout the Minnesota workforce and education ecosystem. Real Time Talent helps ensure the Minnesota economy has the talent it needs, and helps Minnesotans prepare for and find careers they want. Real Time Talent (www.realtimetalentmn.org) is leading the roll-out of real-time data and other workforce alignment tools across 110 higher education, workforce and employer association institutions across Minnesota.
Improving Higher Education (2011-12)
The Itasca Project launched a task force to identify strategies for higher education in Minnesota to drive long-term, sustainable economic growth and prosperity. The work was led by a team of 12 leaders from business, nonprofit and higher education institutions. An advisory group of 40 business and community leaders provided input and guidance. With the help of this group, the task force completed a Higher Ed Strategy for Minnesota, then launched three initiatives: Workforce Alignment, to ensure we have the skilled workers we need to meet the economic needs of the future (see above); Collaboration, to optimize higher education's assets and efficiencies system-wide; and Research & Innovation, to establish partnerships that foster and strengthen an ecosystem of research and innovation. (Read Higher Education Partnerships for Prosperity here.)
Today, Real Time Talent is carrying this work forward. (See Aligning Education and Training with Employers’ Workforce Needs above.) In addition, a group of leaders from the University of Minnesota, Minnesota State, Minnesota High Tech Association, University of St. Thomas and Medical Alley regularly collaborate to encourage students to pursue careers and experiential learning in research and innovation through programs such as MHTA's SciTechsperience.
Calculating the ROI of Transit Investment
This task force sought to understand the expected economic return on regional transit investments in order to inform the regional conversation on transit expansion. (Read its regional Transit ROI study here.) The work formed a model for a similar analysis undertaken by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) in late 2013, which examined the return on investment of the state highway system. (Read that report here.)
Itasca Project continues to provide information to public officials and others interested in how best to plan for continued population growth in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, as well as an emerging workforce that favors multiple transit options. We actively participate in conversations with business groups such as the Minnesota Business Partnership, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, GREATER MSP, and the Minneapolis and St. Paul Chambers of Commerce to provide the input of business into the regional dialogue.
Generating Quality Job Growth (2009)
Itasca Project launched a task force to assess the region's job growth position and to develop strategies to promote the retention, creation and attraction of quality jobs in the Twin Cities region. (Read Charting a New Course: Restoring Job Growth in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Region here.)
Two new efforts began as a result of this work:
GREATER MSP: This regional economic development partnership was created as a separate organization to drive a coordinated strategy for the region that includes retaining and attracting more quality jobs. As a public-private partnership funded by member investments, GREATER MSP is a value-added resource to all economic development groups in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region. Since its inception, GREATER MSP has directly helped to generate more than 20,000 jobs and $2.1 billion in capital investment in the region.
Business Bridge: The Itasca Job Growth Task Force initiated the "Business Bridge" initiative to more effectively facilitate purchasing connections between the region's small, growing companies and its larger, more established organizations. Business Bridge participants exceeded their goal by increasing procurement expenditures an additional $1 billion from Minnesota-and western Wisconsin-based companies and continue to recruit new purchasing organizations to join the movement.
Creating Minnesota's Future: World Class Schools, World Class Jobs (2008)
The Itasca Project joined with the Minnesota Business Partnership to examine the best practices of world-class education systems, benchmark Minnesota against those systems, and identify initiatives that the business community could support to elevate the state’s school systems to world class. (Read the report here.)
Setting Regional Performance Indicators
This effort sought to measure disparities and other important regional characteristics. In conjunction with regional partners, it helped catalyze the launch of the Twin Cities Compass (www.MNcompass.org), and was the basis for later work in the form of the current Regional Indicators dashboard.
Mind the Gap/Close the Gap (2005)
This effort raised regional awareness of the socioeconomic disparities that exist in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region. A Brookings Institution report, Mind the Gap, revealed that the region had one of the widest disparities in the country. This fact-based approach to better understanding the region enabled the Itasca Project to view the initiatives it would undertake in the future through the lens of socioeconomic disparities. The Mind the Gap report catalyzed "Close the Gap" initiatives that included a speakers’ bureau, employer toolkit, a public broadcast documentary, and more. As a result, several large private- and public-sector organizations adopted gap-closing strategies in their strategic plans and employment practices.
Improving Early Childhood Education (2005)
The Itasca Project provided Minnesota's governor the services of a consulting team from McKinsey & Company to examine the current early childhood education programs, develop a common fact base, and identify opportunities for improvement. The outcomes of the study formed the basis for the governor's legislative agenda. Itasca Project also played a brokering role among a group of the critical players in early childhood to identify and address gaps and overlaps and to develop a common change agenda. (Read the report here.)
Growing Minnesota (2004)
Building a Stronger University-Business Partnership (2004)
Using a team of loaned executives, Itasca worked with the University of Minnesota to create a "front door" to the U of M that facilitated stronger cooperation with the business community, improved the process for
commercializing intellectual property, and strengthened the University as a magnet for talent.