The Free Press, Mankato, MN


February 15, 2013

Mankato lobbying efforts aim to get people "talking about us."

“The main thing I want is for us to be talked about more than we are today.”

That's the take on Mankato's push to get more noticed at the Capitol and around the state by Jonathan Zierdt, president and CEO of Greater Mankato Growth.

To that end, GMG has hired Patrick Baker, a 2004 Mankato East grad, who spent time in Washignton with the National Governor's Association.

He'll be heading up GMG's lobbying effort and member engagement as well.

For years, Mankato has not exactly been competing for influence with other regional centers.  Rochester and Duluth have had "days at the Capitol" for decades where hundreds of movers and shakers attend. We've done it for a few years, and let's just say we haven't had the crowds like those other cities.

But, the Mankato area has a lot to offer the state, sometimes more than those other places.

To note: A report on job growth comparing the Mankato/North Mankato Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) shows Mankato job growth at a robust 7.5 percent from 2002 to 2012, far ahead of our regional center competitors.

 St. Cloud was second in the state with 6.1 percent job growth while Rochester had 1.9 percent job growth, Minneapolis 1.6 percent and Duluth was down 1.5 percent.

Greater Mankato Growth, in its 2012 annual accounting of some basic economic indicators, reported gains in areas from the number of businesses, total payroll and average weekly wage. Those indicators were up 1.6 percent, 6.2 percent and 2.6 percent.

GMG also reported other softer ranking measures. Forbes ranked the area 11th in Best Small Places for Business and Careers of all places with populations under 250,000. (The Mankato/North Mankato MSA currently includes about 97,000 people).

Zierdt recalls talking to a legislator in recent memory who thought Mankato was a town of about 10,000 people. When told how big Mankato really was, the legislator was stunned.

That told Zierdt we had to do something to raise our profile. GMG has a budget of nearly $400,000 over serveral years to get us back in the sights and minds of the state's leaders.

We need to be on an equal footing with Rochester, St. Cloud and Duluth.

Mankato became an official MSA regional center in 2008, but Zierdt says we're "still in transition" from a small town to a bigger player.

There's a short-term and long-term plan. The short-term plan calls for lobbying on specific issues that the GMG membership has been in agreement on - mainly expansion of the civic center and improvements to Highway 14.

The longer term strategy will be getting the Mankato area to be "a thought leading center," according to Zierdt.

Our record of success in various areas might first give us credibility to be so called "thought leaders" but we then also have to bring the brainpower to the debate. We should have plenty of that with entrepreneurial leaders and leaders in our higher education community.

We have some fairly progressive governments around here as well. Mankato was one of the first if not the first in the state to come up with the phosphorus trading idea for its wastewater treatment plant, whereby the discharge into the Minnesota river is higher than state standards and we gain revenue by selling our phosphorus credits.

Blue Earth County human services has been involved in a number of pilot projects for delivery of services. We have operated innovative mental health crisis centers and combination housing/service centers for veterans.

It seems what might be needed is an Greater Mankato inventory of great ideas that would provide us with ammunition.

The recent plan for a huge expansion of the Mayo Clinic seems to be sailing through the Legislature for that very reason. Mayo is seen as the premiere "thought leader" on health care.

Mankato may have its niche and expertise in this way. We may just have to look around to see the obvious.







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