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Turning up the volume on innovation in St. Paul

I have been fortunate over the past several months to serve on the Saint Paul Innovation Cabinet brought together by Mayor Chris Coleman and Council Member Chris Tolbert with other leaders from the technology, innovation, economic development, real estate, and workforce development sectors. Our work has been focused on accelerating innovation sector jobs in St. Paul and identifying the strategies necessary to take the city to the next level.

Scott Burns

Through working with these leaders in our business community, I see a bright future for St. Paul. The action plan that we developed — Full Stack Saint Paul — outlines three main strategies to help the city expand innovation jobs and businesses: (1) raising awareness of St. Paul’s vibrant culture of innovation; (2) building and supporting the places and events where innovators connect; and (3) creating an ecosystem of office spaces that help innovation companies recruit and retain talent.

Through this plan, St. Paul is poised to attract additional outside capital, build on our vibrant business districts, and support more well-paying jobs. A major goal of the plan is to see 20 percent growth in technology jobs in St. Paul by 2020. If we can accomplish this, we will strengthen the job market in the city as a whole, grow the tax base we need to continue to invest in world-class schools and city services, and have additional impact because each new innovation job creates as many as three more spin-off jobs in other sectors.

City offers a lot to entrepreneurs

I am not from St. Paul. I was born in Duluth and lived in New Hampshire, Vermont, Colorado, and yes, Minneapolis, before settling in St. Paul. When I launched GovDelivery here in 2000, I found that Minnesota’s Capital City has a lot to offer an entrepreneur. It is a world-class livable community with strong neighborhoods, to be certain. It is less well known, though, for its thriving and supportive business community that benefits from extraordinary leadership from industry leaders like Ecolab and Securian, as well as a chamber of commerce that is second-to-none and a city government that works hard to support businesses of all sizes.

Choosing the right location to start and grow a company is critically important to startups and growing companies. I choose to do business here because I value how connected the city is to its neighborhoods and the extraordinary responsiveness of local city government. People authentically rally together to solve problems and support entrepreneurs here because our sense of place and our commitment to St. Paul drives us to make investments in others who seek to build their futures here.

When I talk to entrepreneurs who are either thinking of starting a business or growing an already successful business, they tell me that they want a connected community with urban vibrancy and an extraordinary workforce. St. Paul offers these things better than anywhere else I have been and without the costs and crowds of comparable cities.

There is a lot more innovation happening in St. Paul than people are aware of, from startups like OppSource and Recombinetics to growth technology firms like Reeher to worldwide companies headquartered here and looking at new ways to do business, like Ecolab and Securian Financial Group. Entrepreneurs choose St. Paul because of the work-life balance their employees enjoy, the city’s vitality and livability, and our strong talent pool. We need to continue to tell this story to attract even more forward-thinking companies to St. Paul.

Creative office spaces

In addition, more and more companies are looking for the right kind of office space to get started and grow — space where their employees want to be. We explored new ways to highlight existing creative office space and encourage investment in new spaces where businesses and their employees can thrive, which is a major need in St. Paul. For example, this spring I was a part of a team that invested in Osborn 370, a reimagining of the iconic former Ecolab headquarters in downtown. We have seen the marketplace react very positively to the office space, which will be unveiled soon as an inviting, open and collaborative environment to foster creativity and innovation.

Our plan is to explore investments in public amenities that could support innovation companies and their employees, with a goal to increase creative office space in St. Paul by 20 percent by 2020.

I am excited about the future of St. Paul, and I strongly believe that Full Stack Saint Paul will turn up the volume on the City’s emerging innovation sector and make our city a better place for many more businesses of all kinds to locate and thrive.

Scott Burns is the CEO and cofounder of Structural, a tech enterprise with a mission to inspire and enable all organizations to unleash the full potential of their people and teams. He previously founded GovDelivery in a St. Paul basement apartment and grew it to 250 people before it was merged with Granicus in 2016.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by William Lindeke on 08/15/2017 - 09:40 am.

    Job #1 is Improving the streetscape

    Right now, Downtown Saint Paul lacks the leadership and vision to invest in its streetscape and urban fabric in ways that will help it compete as a job center. We need to complete the bike/ped Capital City Bikeway loop, which will cost some money and require some political and business leadership. We should be connecting downtown to the surrounding neighborhoods and investing in transit and their station areas.

    But without city money or the business community on board, it’s hard to see any big changes happening very quickly. I’m frustrated at the lack of progress on the Bikeway, sidewalk investments through the “dead zone”, or the 4th Street Market District. Maybe the next mayor can help.

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