Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Minnesota doesn’t have much in the way of military facilities. But the Army’s new Futures Command may be the perfect fit.

The Futures Command is focused on preparing the Army for conflicts that could arise in the next five to 10 years.

Minnesota is home to 18 Fortune 500 companies, a powerhouse agriculture sector, top-notch universities, and maybe the most renowned hospital in the world. For a state that ranks in the middle of the pack in population, there’s no question Minnesota punches above its weight when it comes to economic pull and brainpower.

Minnesota has just about everything a state would want — except a real U.S. military presence. Military bases and installations are economic engines and political lifelines in other parts of the country, from Virginia, home to U.S. Navy hubs, to California, a stronghold of the Marines.

By any measure of military footprint — the number of people employed, the amount of money it spends, the companies it contracts with — Minnesota lags behind its neighboring and peer states, and has for decades.

That could soon change: In the last year, the Pentagon has given Minnesota a fresh look as it seeks a location to host a headquarters for a significant new U.S. Army initiative — and Minnesota is in the mix exactly because this new headquarters is so unusual, by Army standards. It’s not in need of a new cold-weather training hub: instead, the Army is searching for a highly educated workforce, leading science and technology companies, and major research institutions.

The Army is preparing to launch — or “stand up,” in military jargon — what it is calling the Army Futures Command, a new initiative whose mission it is to place the military on the cutting edge of combat, ensuring that the U.S. can prevail in any conflict by producing the most advanced technology, from tanks to missiles and body armor.

Army brass say it is the most significant reorganization the service has done since the Vietnam War, and it involves putting a four-star general in charge of a 500-person research and development outfit that would work not behind the walls of a military installation, but behind the glass of an office building in a bustling American city like Minneapolis or St. Paul.

The Army is considering the Twin Cities region, along with 14 others, to host the Army Futures Command. Faced with competition from major cities like New York and Los Angeles, and tech hubs like San Francisco and Boston, key Minnesota forces — from city governments and state agencies to the congressional delegation and the University of Minnesota — are working furiously to persuade the Army to put its prestigious new facility in Minnesota.

Doing business differently

At its core, the Army Futures Command is about modernizing the military’s largest fighting force for the near term. Unlike the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which works on long-term technological breakthroughs — like laying the foundation for the internet, which it did in the 1960s — the Futures Command is focused on preparing the Army for conflicts that could arise in the next five to 10 years.

According to Col. Patrick Sieber, the spokesman for the Army Futures Command, there’s no precedent for this initiative.

“We don’t have a dedicated force that’s looking out into the future, looking at how do we get the best equipment to our soldiers in the shortest amount of time, so we maintain clear overmatch against any potential adversary,” he told MinnPost. “We don’t want to enter a fair fight — we want to be so far ahead that nobody would think about how to challenge us.”

The defense industry publication BreakingDefense put it another way: “Army Futures Command is just a means to an end: modernizing the Army for high-intensity war against Russia or China.”

Mark Cancian, a retired Marine colonel who studies security issues at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, explains that the Futures Command would blend research and development, acquisition of new equipment, and an active testing operation. “This is to develop major systems for the long term,” he said. “If you were going to build a new tank, or new ground combat vehicle, this would be the organization to think up what does that need to look like.”

The Army has thought about that kind of thing for a while, but the Futures Command aims to spur the service to think about it in a different way — and in the process, shake off the conventions of a rigidly bureaucratic and sometimes hidebound institution.

“Instead of trying to reform their current organization, they decided to create a new organization,” Cancian said. “To emphasize that they want to break away from the old way of doing things, they’re thinking of locating it in a non-Army location.”

It’s that piece that makes the Futures Command so unusual: Army brass and observers talk about it as if they were plunking down a big new office for an established tech company — the parallels to Amazon’s HQ2 are plenty — instead of an initiative to win wars that will be among the Army’s most significant facilities.

“The intent is to place this headquarters in a city that allows access for academia, industry, and innovation to come together,” Sieber says. “A four-star command, typically, you’re thinking a traditional, gated fort or station with a big flagpole and cannons and tanks out front. That’s kind of a traditional headquarters, but this is not. This is different — we’re trying to do business differently.”

Michael Langley, the CEO of Greater MSP, the region’s lead economic development agency, says that despite the Futures Command’s relatively small size — it will be home to 500 jobs, roughly one-tenth the number Target employs in downtown Minneapolis — it could have a significant impact on Minnesota’s economy.

“The direct economic impact of this particular command is easily, tangibly calculable,” he said. “What’s not as immediately calculable, but we believe is also the case, is the aggregation of tech-related businesses. … If we had less than a dozen tech, defense-related companies that wanted to be proximate to the Army Futures Command in the near term, I’d be very surprised.”

Fresh ground for the Army

Historically, Minnesota has not been viewed as an especially attractive location for the traditional kind of military facilities Sieber describes. There is no major Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine base in the state; the only significant military facility in Minnesota is Camp Ripley, a 53,000-acre base for the National Guard located in Morrison County, in north-central Minnesota. As of September 2017, there were roughly 600 active-duty military personnel stationed in Minnesota — the fourth-fewest of any state.

Minnesota has also not benefited from the Pentagon’s largesse as much as many other states. According to the Department of Defense’s annual report, in fiscal year 2015, the military spent $4.3 billion in Minnesota, placing it 26th out of all states. That sum accounted for 1.3 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.

The military supports roughly 22,000 jobs in Minnesota, and the vast majority of what it spends goes to contracts with state businesses. In FY 2015, the lion’s share, $2.8 billion, went to Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group. (UnitedHealth managed the military’s Tricare health insurance system until 2016, when its contract was not renewed.) Other Minnesota firms receiving substantial military contracts include Honeywell, 3M, and Polaris.

A study from the Rand Corporation think tank found that the economic output driven by the Army in Minnesota was $1.9 billion in the 2014 fiscal year — less than half as much as the output the Army generated in Wisconsin, and a fifth of the output generated in Colorado.

But Minnesota has many of the attributes that the Army is looking for in a host for the Futures Command, which is why it made the cut to the 15-region list the Army announced in May after it made the project public in April.

The Army says it is looking for a place with “innovative and agile industrial and academic institutions,” and a region with a business community that has a strong track record of generating new ideas.

It’s also looking for a place with a lot of scientists and engineers, and will measure the strength of a region’s bid for the new HQ based on its share of nine occupations, from chemical and electrical engineers to software developers.

But the Army also wants to set up shop in a region people actually want to live. “We want to have the best,” Sieber says. “We want to be able to compete to get right kind of talent that’s thinking about innovation. …  it has to be someplace they’re going to want to live.”

‘We think we have a lot to offer’

Naturally, the Minnesota boosters who are in charge of preparing the Twin Cities’ bid believe that they have a remarkably strong case to make to the Army to “stand up” the new headquarters somewhere in the metro area.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, along with Greater MSP, wrote the pitch that was sent to the Pentagon before the May 10 deadline. Also involved in developing the pitch were the city governments of Minneapolis and St. Paul, county governments, the University of Minnesota, and Minnesota’s congressional delegation.

“As we crafted our response to the Army, we focused on the fact that we are primed to meet their needs of the future, which are also our needs of the future: a future workforce, a future way of thinking about medical tech, transportation, logistics,” Greater MSP’s Langley says.

That included emphasizing the cluster of Minnesota companies and entities that are involved in the worlds of technology, medicine, agriculture, and manufacturing, Langley says, but also more traditional factors like quality of life. “We’re ranked in so many ways as a really great place to live and work,” he says. “We think we have a lot to offer.”

Though Minnesota’s advocates believe they’ll put together a strong bid that makes it past the next round of cuts, the competition is stiff. The other cities in the running include tech capitals like San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, and Boston, and global business hubs like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

The Army’s list also includes regions similar to the Twin Cities, such as Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver, along with the research hub of Raleigh, North Carolina, and San Diego, which has the largest existing military presence of any city in the running. (Those familiar with the process expect the Army to make at least one more round of cuts before arriving at a shortlist of finalists, which military officials would plan to visit in June.)

Greater MSP, which rates the region’s competitiveness against “peer cities,” says it stacks up favorably; a new report released last Friday had MSP as the second-strongest metro area out of a dozen, including some competitors for Futures Command.

But CSIS’ Cancian thinks that the Twin Cities’ bid is a longshot: “If I had to bet, I think they would go to Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin … if you put an HQ in Silicon Valley, you’re making a statement about your desire to link up with high-tech firms. Minnesota would not give the same message.”

He also raises the example of the Defense Innovation Unit, or DIUx, which was created by former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter with a similar mission to the one Futures Command has now. The Army placed a DIUx cell in Mountain View, California — home to Google’s headquarters — as well as in Boston, Austin, and the Pentagon. “That might be indicative of where the Army might go if they want to make the same point,” Cancian says.

But the Pentagon is also cognizant, especially these days, of the importance of expanding into areas of the country that lack a military presence. According to Mark Jacobson, an associate professor at Georgetown University who has advised top Pentagon officials, that could be an advantage for Minnesota.

“The entire Midwest has had problems with high tech and the defense industry,” he said. “It could be an opportunity for the department to build up in the Midwest.”

“Because of the future aspect of this opportunity, the Army is looking beyond the norm,” MSP’s Langley says. “Maybe that gives us a bit of a competitive advantage that we’re not necessarily a traditional Army community, but we are very dedicated as a state and region in supporting national defense.”

The public bidding war for Amazon’s second headquarters — a much larger project that is looking for some of the same things the Army is — casts somewhat of a shadow over the Twin Cities’ effort: Amazon notably snubbed Minnesota, and several of the regions that made the tech giant’s shortlist are also being considered by the Army.

The region’s boosters told MinnPost that they’ll be applying what they learned from the HQ2 process to try to persuade the Army to invest in Minnesota — but they won’t try to look like something they’re not.

According to David Frank, director of the City of Minneapolis’ economic development office, Minnesota’s bid emphasizes what makes it unique — not what makes it similar to Silicon Valley, or anywhere else.

“If I tell you that your competition for the parking space you want is driving a Maserati, you’re not going to be able to do that much differently if your competition is a Toyota Prius,” Frank said. “You are what you are.”

His message to the Army is concise: “We think it’s a great place, with great workers, and we’d love to have you come and join us.”

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by David Broden on 05/14/2018 - 12:29 pm.

    US Army Futures Command- A Minnesota Opportunity

    The MN Post Article re; Army Futures Command expresses the opportunity for MN well. There are some factors that should also be added- MN has had a long history of innovation in defense technology and systems as well as manufacturing of products for the military. These include products and technology for Army, USAF, Navy, and USMC as well as support for allied nations. The strength was at Honeywell then evolved to ATK , BAE, GD, Lockheed Martin, 3M,. Those of us who worked in these companies could list the spectrum of innovations and resulting products which are key capabiiltiies of the US Armed Forces today, This same innovative resources capability exists today because of the MN workforce in technology and systems management. As one who was involved in many of the innovations i know we have the basis to be among the site finalists. Today i continue in the Defense industry as a consultant and as Chair of the National Defense Industrial Assocation Armament Division. I interface continually with some of the Army leadership who are shaping the Futures Command. The 2018 NDIA Armament Forum last week which i chaired addressed the Futures Command and similar efforts of other services. Disussions of the Futures Command site was a topic among the attendees. General comments were favorable and often referenced past work by MN companies. Our challenge now is to have an effective message and ability to follow thru with understanding of the Future Command objectives and the ability to support the Army site location objectives to benefit the Army, the Nation, and MN with a quality of life as well as technology and to show that related companies will have growth opportunities in Mn as well. I and all of Mn should look forward to this as a major step to the economic growth engines for Mn for years to come.

    DAve Broden

  2. Submitted by David Broden on 05/14/2018 - 04:38 pm.

    Message to MN Economic Development and Policy Leaders

    Since i provided the comments regarding Army Futures Command and at the time i am writing this second comment perhaps the lack of other comments indicates that MN Economic Development, Policy, and Business Leadership needs to consider how to better and more effectively communicate the value of a business/technology unit as proposed by the US Army on the Economic future of MN.As i interface with the Army Future Command personnel the technology can be an incubator of topics including robotics, autonomous vehicle, Artificial intelligence, machine learning, cognitive skills and management, advanced materials, unique electronics and sensors, lasers, and system engineering and manamgement. As each of these technologies and related application evolve to system innovative new companies and expansion of others from across the US will be established. MN higher education including not only the U but all other higher education as well as tech and vo tech skills will be required. MN often is said to not have the workforce needed — this is simply wrong in both the core MN personnel and the ability of the MN quality of life and the quality of jobs which will evolve and attrack personnel to MN. MN can be the city selected but to so we must step forward and shown interest, commitement, and value in the Twin Cities for Army Futures Command> I am continuing to express how MN meets the objectives as i work in the Army community each day. i encourage the leadership of our state and community to express the benefits to MN for the future and reference the innovation of MN defense and aerospace companies which has been had an impact on national security and jobs in Mn. We have much to sell and to build on but need to show we will work to make it happen. i look forward to more comments on this topic.

    Dave Broden

  3. Submitted by David Broden on 05/14/2018 - 05:14 pm.

    Message to MN Post and to MN Leadership

    The lack of comments regarding this opportunity is simply amazing and send a strong message of how MN cares about building an economic vision for the future!!! I would appreciate some thoughts on how to “sell’ the importance of shaping and building avison for MN for the next 20-40 years. The lack of response suggests we are only considering the near term problems and no one is focusing on the future. As i have assessed the position of the many governor candidates and spoken with legislattors the focus is all near term. Why? How do we change that focus to a Vision???

    Dave Broden

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/15/2018 - 12:59 pm.

      Mr. Broden…

      It’s possible that we’re not ALL owners and presidents of defense contracting companies here in the Twin Cities. THAT might explain our lack of enthusiasm.

  4. Submitted by Wes Davey on 05/14/2018 - 10:04 pm.

    A piece of the pie

    Yep, everyone gets a slice of the lucrative military pie, and everyone’s happy – except maybe our children and grandchildren who will eventually have to pay the tab for what is now essentially uncontrolled DoD spending. Kind of like back in 2016 when one of our Representatives finagled an $80 million contract for 3M so it would continue making unneeded body-armor for the military, but hey, we got a piece of the military pie…meanwhile, our infrastructure continues to crumble.

  5. Submitted by David Broden on 05/15/2018 - 08:39 am.

    Efficiency Not Pie

    The Army Futures Command is not even a corner of the pie- the Futures Command is a major and focused thrust to reshape the acquisition requirement thru acquisition process and will make the defense budget more efficient, timely etc. Reducing requirement definition cycle from 3-4 years to 1-2 max and achieving procurement actions in 6-12 months vs. 18-36 will save much. Dividing the pie funding is another element to be addressed. This function in the MSP area can be trigger for much innovation in commerciall, defense, aerospace,and medical. Management of the Army will change significantly with this command. Work is also being done to address the size of pies.

    Dave Broden

  6. Submitted by CJ Camp on 05/15/2018 - 09:14 am.


    I think much like Wes Davey above, it seems to me that money could be spent on much more important things than military spending. For instance, I’d like to see medical innovation come from pretty much any other entity other than one whose primary function is ultimately death.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/15/2018 - 12:51 pm.

    Nice cheer leading but…

    Military programs and bases come and go, they’re not forever. When you look at their economic impact you also need to look at the impact in places where they’ve closed… and those impacts are typically devastating. MN has prospered without this kind of “presence” since Fort Snelling closed in 1946, well, actually since 1985 when the last radar base up in Finland MN closed down, at any rate, we might well be better off without this presence in the long run. I assume for instance that readers have at least a passing familiarity with former Army ammunition plant up in Arden Hills? Sure, lot of jobs, but a big giant headache for decades after the Army abandoned it. Was it worth it the end?

    The idea that a single government installation or program out of the defense budget will make or break the local economy, or provide stimulus or innovation that cannot emerge any other way is like the stadium arguments we tend to see. I’m not saying I’m against it, but this boosterism is kind of startling.

    Our military budget is not sustainable, eventually it will have to be cut. As for modernization programs, and finding efficiency’s, the military industrial complex has proven to be remarkably resistant to such efforts. Often times these programs never really get off the ground so even if the MN gets the nod, I wouldn’t rejoice until you hear the fat lady singing. $500 hammers are still a problem, and it got worse during the Bush era of private contracting as much as possible. Often times those who yammer about “efficiency” just end up piling another layer of complexity on top of an inefficient system.

    By the way, what exactly is this “bid” we’re talking about? Is MN putting money on the table? If so how much and where?

  8. Submitted by David Broden on 05/15/2018 - 03:12 pm.

    Recommend Seeking to Understand the Futures Command

    The comments are appropriate for a open discussion but as the dissucss proceeds i recommend that those who are commenting seek to understand the Futures Command. The objective is to form an organization by blending Requirements with Research and Development all management. This is not a factory- ti is intendent to be an incubator of innovation in technology, systems and operations. Some of you may think i am biased and hard over for more spending. Just the oppostive – throughtout a career in DOD and Aerospace R&D – i have frequently said no to many new items and frequenty that has been the selected side.There is no comparison to the Arden Hills Plant and i worked as a tech director and program manager in that site. Today in i interface with many civilians and military including government and industry who view the Army FuturesCommand as step out of the past to forma new think tank approach. Other esrvices are doing the same. I believe as you learn the approach and what it will be e the benefits will be clear.

    Dave Broden

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/16/2018 - 08:55 am.


    As I said, I’m not saying I’m against it, we could use 500 jobs as much as anyone else, but this pitch for it Minnpost strikes me as a little strange. Mr. Brodey is the DC corespondent, and this looks like business writing, which is typically characterized by boosterism pretending to be journalism. This pitch strikes me (and maybe it’s just me) as being over-the-top. Maybe I missed it but basic elements of this story should include what kind of budget this program has, i.e. how much money are they going to spend if they land in the Twin Cities? And some details about the “bid” being made to attract this project.

    As for the project itself, again, I’m not saying it’s necessarily a “bad” idea, but talk of “efficiencies” and “innovation” has been fashionable in US corporate circles for more than two decades now, and if anything our economy and corporate cultures have become less innovative and more inefficient. People who “talk” about these things… tend not to be the ones who produce them. If you know how to run and efficient organization… you don’t need to hire someone to make your organization more efficient. The “innovative” among us didn’t emerge from workshops or incubators where they learned how be innovative. There are some examples like Xerox Park, but one has to note that it was AFTER Xerox Park shut down that the technology developed there was deployed by talented software and hard ware engineers. Neither Bill Gates or Steve Jobs emerged from Xerox Park. Historically “incubators” just aren’t how innovation emerges, some environments foster innovation more than others, but that doesn’t mean you can design incubators.

    Typically organizations like this just become an office where a lot of meeting are held, and conferences are attended, but nobody really DOES anything. Even if they analyze data of some kind and produce recommendations, recommendations are rarely adopted. We currently have an administration that’s notorious for ignoring recommendations. So whatever, a job is job but I hope nobody is dropping a lot of promises or money on the table to bring these guys in because inevitably some OTHER efficiency and or innovation program will recommend shutting THIS ONE down.

  10. Submitted by Marcia Wattson on 05/16/2018 - 08:58 am.

    Futures Command Opportunity Cost

    This may be an excellent opportunity for Minnesota’s economic development. Minnesota has not been dependent on the Pentagon for our success in the past, and we have maintained a balanced view and some skepticism about the value of military expenditures. Increasing our piece of the defense budget pie may have the undesirable effect of adding more voices to the chorus singing for more money for the military. That is in no way a good thing.

  11. Submitted by David Frenkel on 05/16/2018 - 04:28 pm.

    DOD spending

    It would make for an interesting discussion why 5 of the top 10 states with the largest defense spending are arguably some of the most politically liberal states with CA at #2 behind VA.
    It is pretty difficult to be a large corporation and not be a defense contractor. As mentioned in the article UHG was a huge healthcare provider with Tricare but I think they recently lost the contract.
    Besides the well known big companies General Mills sells food and all the medical device companies sell products to the military. As the saying goes it is a well kept secret how many companies sell to the US military in MN but it has been politically incorrect to talk about it for some reason.
    The Univ of MN has historically avoided doing any classified research even though the Univ of CA runs many of the government nuclear labs like Los Alamos.
    There are certainly plenty of issues on how the DOD is run which Congress is currently working on with a far reaching audit.
    For whatever the excuses or rational MN has lost out not only on military facilities but on R&D money that has gone elsewhere in many cases.
    The strength in MN bidding on the futures command may be the lower cost of living as compared to some of the other cities in the running. The Futures Command would create an economic engine for companies wanting to provide products and services as well as possible spinoffs. I would not downplay the potential economic impact.
    The other thing which is probably not happening is taking a more regional approach with ND. ND is an FAA test site for autonomous aircraft (drones) and Grand Forks is a hub for autonomous aircraft training and R&D with the Grand Forks AFB, UND and Northland Aerospace (Thief River Falls).
    From the unscientific research I have been doing it doesn’t appear the MN Congressional delegation has been lobbying the DOD for this command as hard as some of the other states whose Congressional delegations might have a little more background in how the DOD works.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/19/2018 - 11:09 am.

      Defense spending…

      The defense industry always makes this argument that their programs will be economic engines of innovation, but it’s a facile claim. The truth is that the secrecy, proprietary nature of the technology, and compartmentalization of defense spending actually limits spin-off potential more than almost any other kind of government spending. Military spending is a black box, not an open carnival of shared technology and innovation.

      One of the reasons the U of M has passed up military dollars in the past is irreconcilable conflicts that can be created by the secrecy of military projects. As a publicly funded land grant university secret military research can be a trickier proposition at the U. than it might be elsewhere. This was a significant issue back in the 80’s when we were debating participation in the Missile Defense (Star Wars) program.

      Much like stadium and arena spending the return bang for the buck you get with defense spending is minimal compared to other kinds of spending or public investment. Defense programs are high dollar low yield, the F22 fighter jet for instance cost $688,000 per job created (obviously everyone working in that program wasn’t being paid $688k). The military claims that the the $66 billion F22 program created 96,000 jobs. That sounds impressive until you find out that the same amount money spent on transportation infrastructure would create over 700,000 jobs.

      Another problem with military spending it that it doesn’t produce useful stuff. Most military hardware goes into storage until it’s used for training or combat, and any time you use military hardware you’re just spending more money on top of the money you already spent to acquire the stuff you’re using, in other words, there’s no real return on the investment from an economic perspective. Any ordinance you fire has to replaced, and whatever you use to fire ordinance (like a tank for instance) has to refurbished. For instance an F22 fighter jet costs $133 million to build, and then it costs $68,000 per hour to fly. That’s ONE plane, ONE pilot.

      This program is obviously not a production program, but what THAT tells us that no matter how much is being spent, it’s not actually producing anything. Furthermore, since we don’t know much the Pentagon is spending (because THAT information isn’t part of the article) we can’t evaluate how efficient it is at creating jobs, this is why information like that is so critical.

      As for other states and the military spending taking place there, whether they’re liberal or conservative isn’t really an issue. The only real issue is whether or not military spending elsewhere is producing better economies. We KNOW that VA is not outperforming our economy… period, so military spending there is a mute point. We also know that while CA may outperform MN in some ways, that performance is NOT a result of military spending alone.

      Again, I’m not saying I’m against this project, but there’s no way to honestly characterize this as a special economic opportunity of any kind, lets be honest about this. We could very well do better by opening a couple more Costco or Target stores in the area, or an Amazon facility.

Leave a Reply