Studying MSP

One hundred business leaders from Tampa plan visit to learn from local leaders

By Kevyn Burger
Monday, August 15, 2016

January is a favored month for Minnesotans to flee to Florida. For residents of the Sunshine State, August represents the reverse end of the weather misery index, with brutal summer heat and humidity.

No matter how hot it is in Minnesota this month, it’s bound to represent relief to the 100 business leaders who will be visiting from the Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan area.

Sponsored by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, they are coming to the Twin Cities to observe how local leaders are addressing civic issues, from downtown redevelopment to building strong regional ties to attracting more young people and professionals of color.

“The Twin Cities has a reputation as a thriving urban community,” says Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. “Your area has dealt with some of the same issues we are dealing with, or that we anticipate facing. We want to take an in-depth look at your vision so we can learn from it.”

This is the 16th year that the Tampa chamber has organized what it calls a ‘benchmarking trip’ to another American city. Last year, the group visited Denver to focus on its transit system and the changes brought on by the legalization of marijuana.

During their three-day visit to MSP, the Tampa delegation will intersect with their chamber counterparts in the Twin Cities and will meet with Minnesota business, corporate and government panels.

“There was so much interest that we had to cap our group at 100,” Rohrlack says. “This is no junket; we hit the ground running and will work them hard.”

The Tampa visitors will stay in downtown Minneapolis and jump on and off the transit system to get around. They plan to tour both US Bank Stadium and Target Field; a new sports stadium is likely in Tampa Bay’s future. 

They will also travel the Green Line to St. Paul. The chamber there will host a panel that will detail local initiatives aimed at diversifying the workforce. While a disturbing racial opportunity gap has been identified in the Twin Cities, the region’s acknowledgment of the problem — and its ongoing efforts to narrow it —  is of interest to the Florida visitors.

“We are a huge melting pot and we know that we need to do more. We want to craft a program from the ground up, and you’re a step or two ahead of us, with diversity initiatives in place,” Rohrlack says. “As a chamber, we want to be proactive. It’s a sensitive issue and we hope we can learn how to avoid pitfalls as we get started.”

The Tampa group will hear from a variety of Minnesota employers, both on the corporate side and in small business, who are pursuing innovative strategies to attract and retain people of color.

“We’re putting together a local group that has a strong understanding about workforce diversity,” says Tasha Byers, Manager of Workforce Initiatives for the St. Paul Area Chamber. “Each region is unique but there are takeaways from our work here, suggestions about what to do and not do.”

The Tampa visitors will be in the metro area from August 28-30.