In greater Minneapolis-St. Paul, as in so many regions, companies’ site selection decisions often hinge on access to available talent. But as the Twin Cities region flourishes and its labor market tightens, skilled workers become harder to find. This is a key reason why GREATER MSP, the region’s economic development organization, has made workforce and economic research the foundation for its business attraction and retention strategies.
- GREATER MSP and its regional partners helped convince Post Holdings to consolidate its cereal headquarters in a Twin Cities suburb—a decision influenced by a key data factoid on food scientists unearthed by GREATER MSP researchers using Emsi.
- The economic development organization’s enterprising research helps market Minneapolis-St. Paul on a global scale and build lasting relationships with site selectors and consultants working on behalf of businesses.
- GREATER MSP uses Emsi supply chain data to target businesses that could fit well in the region’s industry mix.
- Emsi’s place-of-work vs. place-of-residence jobs data helps the EDO show prospective companies that want to settle in suburbs that they can find workers.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul economy is a global powerhouse. The 16-county region that GREATER MSP serves has more than 3.5 million people and a gross metro product of $228 billion, the 48th largest in the world. It’s home to major corporate headquarters and internationally competitive food and medical devices clusters. It boasts excellent quality of life, and in key economic indicators like unemployment and labor force participation rate—which GREATER MSP is well known for tracking—the Twin Cities sits atop peer regions.
GREATER MSP’s challenge, then, is a big one: to accelerate job growth, capital investment, and wealth in a region that’s already prospering. For these things to happen, companies need the right workforce. This is much more difficult in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area today than it was when the organization was formed in 2011.
“In 2011, we had more people than jobs,” David Griggs, VP of Business Investment and Research at GREATER MSP, said in a presentation at the 2016 Emsi Conference. “Today we find ourselves in a completely different situation, where we have more jobs than people.”
GREATER MSP started to feel this dynamic change three years ago, when it launched a talent attraction initiative. It immediately received pushback when it began to speak about a talent shortage. Just a few years removed from a deep recession, people were skeptical. Which is why the regional EDO did what it always does: turn to hard data to make its case.
The Post Holdings Success Story
In 2015, Post Holdings purchased the maker of Malt-O-Meal cereals, which is based in Minnesota. Post had its cereal headquarters in New Jersey but was looking to consolidate its operations.
“We have a very large concentration of food scientists, more than any other metro we could find, and that was something we were really not aware of until we were looking at Emsi data.”
When GREATER MSP and its regional partners heard that Post Holdings was considering a Twin Cities suburb as the base for its cereal operations, the EDO provided research showing the region’s comparative strength in the number of food scientists it employs. “We have a very large concentration of food scientists, more than any other metro we could find, and that was something we were really not aware of until we were looking at Emsi data,” said Val Vannett, Director of Research and Analysis at GREATER MSP.
Post Holdings ended up combining corporate offices of its New Jersey and Minnesota operations in Lakeville, about 20 miles south of downtown Minneapolis. And the company later noted that the statistic on food scientists “was one they had not seen and was influential in their decision to focus on the Minneapolis-St. Paul region for the cereal headquarters,” Vannett said.
In this case, a key insight that GREATER MSP discovered with labor market data helped attract and retain 400 jobs.
The Value of Research
The Post Holdings win is part of a larger, focused push by GREATER MSP to understand and develop industry sectors—like food and agribusiness—that Minneapolis-St. Paul excels in. The EDO has winnowed down its regional strategy to focus on five sectors of regional strength. With each, Vannett and her team have done extensive research with Emsi, and they continue to do new research to isolate new trends on sub-sectors with high regional specialization or growth opportunities.
GREATER MSP’s research team also works in lockstep with the EDO’s business investment team, which communicates directly with existing or prospective businesses, to ensure the organization (and the region) fully understands each sector.
“A lot of our business investment people are very experienced, and they’re familiar with the industries that we touch a lot,” Vannett said. “But we know that we need to go back and do the research and make sure there is nothing we’re missing, that the data is substantiating what we’re experiencing.”
GREATER MSP has valued data research from its inception six years ago. Research has helped set the course for the organization. Indeed, it undergirds everything the business investment team works on—from business attraction and retention, to foreign direct investment and export development. The EDO’s leadership not only supports this research, “they get out and talk about it,” Vannett said.
“Because we’ve got the research to back things up, we can bring facts to people so it’s not just a qualitative statement when we talk about issues in our metro,” she said. “We can substantiate that there is an issue there, too.”
Marketing the Region
The depth of information that GREATER MSP collects and reports on its region—in both its regional indicators dashboard and reports—helps market the region. This research has helped the EDO develop a reputation with influential site selectors and consultants who are always looking for large amounts of data to report to businesses. “When they know they can get the info they need for a company, they are more willing to consider an Minneapolis-St. Paul location, due to ease of contact,” Vannett said. “Consultants and site selectors are ‘repeat customers’ because they know Greater MSP can provide prompt info.” (One example: A boutique site selector working for a large prominent national company once told GREATER MSP, “Wow, you gave me a lot to work with.”)
Emsi is a critical part of this research equation. Often facing tight time constraints, GREATER MSP’s research team can turn to Emsi’s data platform to pull quick statistics for RFIs (requests for information) or more comprehensive information to use as the backbone for large-scale research projects.
“Just having all that data aggregated into one tool is fantastic,” Vannett said. “Even for that food scientist info, that just kind of popped out at us. Being able to pull up a bunch of other cities to compare those occupations is huge. That can be really hard to do if you have to go out and just get the government data yourself. With Emsi, we can do it very quickly.”
Supporting Business Attraction and Retention/Expansion
This data is crucial in both GREATER MSP’s business attraction and business retention/expansion efforts.
On the business retention front, the economic development organization uses Emsi’s supply chain data—looking at the percent of industry demand met inside and outside the region—before it visits local companies. This information has proven useful when working with the region’s large and prominent med tech sector. Most of the local med tech companies are in the northwest corner of the metro, but “by highlighting the extensive supply chain companies, we are able to help local government interact with the firms elsewhere in the metro who impact the industry,” Vannett said. “In other words, the whole metro plays a role in the industry—even if the med tech firm itself isn’t in your neighborhood.”
On the business attraction front, GREATER MSP has found Emsi’s commuting data—where workers live vs. where they work—to be influential for firms that want to locate in the Twin Cities suburbs. “They need to know they can get workers and this data shows them the possibilities,” Vannett said.
About Greater MSP
In 2011, The Itasca Group and other key stakeholders decided to make a significant contribution to growing the local economy by creating a regional approach to economic development, leading to the creation of GREATER MSP.
GREATER MSP (Minneapolis Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership) is a private, non-profit (501c3) organization dedicated to providing public and private sector leadership, coordination and engagement to grow the economy of the 16-county MSP region. For more, visit greatermsp.org.
Emsi provides economic development organizations with labor market insights on their communities and regions to help them grow existing businesses, attract new businesses, and provide meaningful opportunities to their residents. For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 866-999-EMSI (3674), or visit economicmodeling.com.