This week’s American Legion gathering is latest evidence that government does create jobs

American Legion delegates are expected to spend as much as $22 million, thanks in part to Minneapolis' government-supported convention center.
Creative Commons/Mel Green
American Legion delegates are expected to spend as much as $22 million, thanks in part to Minneapolis’ government-supported convention center.

It has become popular — especially among conservative voices — to say that government doesn’t create jobs and economic growth; that only the private sector can do that. Government, the voices say, needs to get out of the way.

But this week, more than 10,000 members of the American Legion will be in the Twin Cities, filling up hotels and restaurants throughout downtown Minneapolis. Before they leave, the delegates to the convention are expected to spend from $17 million to $22 million in the region.

Much of the money will end up in state coffers directly through sales taxes and indirectly by income taxes paid by people whose jobs depend on tourism dollars. According to Explore Minnesota, there are 70,000 people in Hennepin County alone whose jobs revolve around travel and tourism.

The point: The Legion delegates — and the thousands of delegates from dozens of other large conventions  —  wouldn’t be here without the Minneapolis Convention Center.

The convention center is a product of government. It’s owned by the city. It’s built — and maintained — through a variety of hotel, restaurant and entertainment taxes. Authority for levying those taxes came from the 1986 Legislature.

Government doesn’t create jobs? The convention center would seem to be a small example of a different reality.

Convention center ‘invaluable asset’
“This facility is an invaluable asset,” said Melvin Tennant, president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis, the organization that works to attract conventions and trade meetings to the city.

The structure, which opened in 1989, is not self-sustaining. Tax collections from hotel, liquor and restaurant taxes amount to about $48 million a year. $18 million of that is used to subsidize operations of the building, and the rest goes to pay off debt and keep the center as current as possible.

But by continuing to invest, Tennant said, “the building remains ahead of the [national] competition.”

“It’s designed to be a loss leader,” said Tennant. “There’s an effort to minimize the losses. But in every way, it’s been a great public investment.”

In 2010, Tennant said, the Convention Center created $900 million in spending.

This week’s event is considered among the biggest and best conventions a region can attract. The city already has contracted with the American Legion for the organization’s 2018 convention, which will be an even bigger deal because it will mark the 100th anniversary of the Legion.

Aside on the Legion: This is no longer our fathers’ organization. The current national commander, Alaskan Jimmie Foster, will be succeeded next month by a New Yorker, Fang Wong, who will become the first Asian-American to head the organization.

“I assure you that pretty soon, we’ll have our first female national commander and our first African-American commander,” said Foster.

Although the old slogan — “For God and country” — remains, the issues it deals with are contemporary.

A main focus of this convention, for example, is a jobs fair. For reasons Foster can’t comprehend, the unemployment rate among military vets is higher than the national average. Part of the problem, Foster said, is that vets often don’t get credit by prospective employers for training and time spent on military jobs.

Women’s health care is another of the contemporary issues.

“We took a survey [among female vets],” said Foster, “and one of the things that became clear is that they would like to see more female health care providers [in Veterans Administration hospitals].”

Legion now broader-based
The national increase in flag-waving patriotism that followed 9-11 has made the Legion — and its causes — a broader-based organization than it was in the 1960s and ’70s.

Vets from the current wars are “more likely to join” the Legion than vets of the Vietnam era were, according to Foster.

He said the organization attempts to be less blatantly political than it was in the 1960s, when the Legion often appeared to be attempting to be the counter-balance to the anti-war movements.

Yes, Rep. Michele Bachmann is among those speaking at the convention. But so is Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

“The world’s too big and too complex for us to be getting wrapped up in politics,” said Foster. “We want to take care of our issues. We want to progress. We don’t want to get wrapped up in some of these other things.”

Minneapolis, the commander said, is an ideal place for his organization to meet. The central location encourages a high turnout, the city offers a “great” downtown, and there are a variety of hotels.

And, of course, without the convention center, there would be no Legion convention here. Nor would there have been 6,000 people attending the 25th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Society. Nor would there have been 10,000 people showing up for the Cheer and Dance Championships.

With the economic times, these have been down times for conventions and trade shows throughout the nation. Last year, the Minneapolis Convention Center attracted 329 events, down substantially from the five-year average of 478.

But this week, things will be humming in Minneapolis. On Sunday, there was a Legion parade down Nicollet Mall. The president comes to town on Tuesday, and downtown streets are filled with men and women in blue caps.

Government doesn’t create jobs?

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Wilfahrt on 08/29/2011 - 10:53 am.

    Well delivered Mr. Grow. There is indeed a place for government in our society.

    Jeff Wilfahrt, Rosemount, MN

  2. Submitted by Jim Roth on 08/29/2011 - 11:15 am.

    Good point, but certain to be ignored by those who don’t agree.

  3. Submitted by Diane Clare on 08/29/2011 - 11:16 am.

    Hats off to Mpls. Cities and counties should be the ones looking out for their local businesses and residents if a community is to prosper. It is too bad that the federal and even state government think they have all the answers and slow it down.

  4. Submitted by Chip Laingen on 08/29/2011 - 12:11 pm.

    This is a bit like saying that we wouldn’t have cars if the City of Detroit hadn’t been incorporated. I’m pretty sure the American Legion could find a place to meet with or without government-subsidized facilities.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/29/2011 - 12:59 pm.

    This sounds like a good argument to use with the liberals who vow to vote NO on the new Vikings stadium. Why, voting no would be anti-government or something!

    On another note, I’m not a member of the Legion nor the VFW even though I’m eligible. And it’s because they ARE so political that Vietnam vets are generally not interested.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/29/2011 - 03:25 pm.

    Mr. Tester: The Convention Center is a civic asset that benefits Minneapolis’ businesses and all its citizens.

    The football stadium would not be owned by the public but by a kabillionaire who could well afford to build his own playground. He is instead determined to get public money but refuses to open his books to the scrutiny of those who would be in charge of contributing state and county money.

    Mr. Wilf wants to add a “village” to the stadium site that would need water and electricity infrastructure, roads and streets and probably schools and playgrounds, police and fire protection and all those other urban amenities he would no doubt insist the county pay for.

    It would host a few footballs games per year and thereby create very part-time low-wage jobs for concessionaires and ticket takers.

    What the stadium would do BIG TIME is have many more high-priced corporate boxes and many fewer affordable tickets for the not-so-rich, and it would add untold millions in income from national TV coverage that will most likely not be shown here.

    The stadium is a b-a-d deal for taxpayers and fans, but a good one for our Zigi. He should be told that it’s the Dome (with all expenses paid by him) or Goodbye.

  7. Submitted by Bruce Kvam on 08/29/2011 - 04:32 pm.

    I’m with Bernice. If the Vikings were owned by the public like the Green Bay Packers, I might be convinced to build a stadium. But I’m not interested in spending billion dollars of public money so that millionaire players can play football for a billionaire owner in front of millionaire corporate CEOs sitting in luxurious boxes paid for in part by tax deductions for “business entertainment.” In the end the little guy winds up paying for almost all of it.

    The truth is that nothing can hold the Vikings here. If Wilf wants to get out of a contract that holds the Vikings here, he could drive the team into bankruptcy like Frank McCourt did with the Dodgers in LA, and skip out on all his obligations. If it doesn’t make business for the Vikings to build their own stadium, it doesn’t make public policy sense for us to build it for him.

  8. Submitted by Fred Couples on 08/29/2011 - 05:46 pm.

    The purpose of building this stadium is not so much on what it will cost taxpayers to build it it’s more like what will happen if it doesn’t.

    The Vikings will leave. It’s that simple. The question then becomes what will be the economic impact to the state.

    With baseball you have 81 dates on which to make money during games if you happen to own a business downtown. With football it’s 10 at most this year (yeah were not going to the playoffs so deal with it) so the impact is mostly prestige with the Twin Cities being relegated to an even more flyover state status when we do lose them.

    Why do I the Arden Hills site never gets built?

    Look at the legislature for the answer. The Minneapolis area has the most concentrated population in the state, therefore they have the most representatives and senators to block any proposed deal for AH but they will move mountains to build one downtown.

    The only stadium bill that will get shoved through will be a downtown one, so since the Wilf’s supposedly are not interested in downtown they will walk.

  9. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/29/2011 - 05:51 pm.

    “I’m pretty sure the American Legion could find a place to meet with or without government-subsidized facilities. ”

    Yes, but it wouldn’t be here and they wouldn’t be spending $17 – $22 million in the Twin Cities.

  10. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 08/29/2011 - 06:01 pm.

    A new Vikings stadium
    (with a retractable roof) in down town St.Paul or Mpls. maybe….
    but building it on that dump site in Arden Hill…then I think it should be totally paid for by the owners..

  11. Submitted by rolf westgard on 08/31/2011 - 12:08 pm.

    Most of the major growth industries are nurtured with government research support.
    Al Gore didn’t invent the internet; it came out of Arpanet from the Defense Advanced Research Projects aAgency which continues to fund research in a number of promising areas.

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