Guest blog from Ramsey County Commissioners Victoria Reinhardt and Rafael E. Ortega
Building a stronger, more equitable and resilient economy – as we continue to mitigate the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic – will require a transportation system that safely and smartly connects people to jobs and vital services. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that effective public transportation is a critical part of keeping regions running.
By serving essential workers in emergency services, health care, food services, social services and other sectors, public transportation helps not just some people, but everyone who relies on and benefits from the work of these heroes in our community.
Workers classified as essential during this public health and economic emergency make up 36% of total transit commuters in the United States, according to U.S. Census data. Nationwide, more than 600,000 regular transit commuters work at hospitals, in doctor’s offices, or as home health providers; 165,000 people take transit to jobs in grocery stores or pharmacies; and 150,000 workers in social services commute on transit. These millions and millions of weekly trips serving all work shifts don’t include the essential trips taken by people using transit to get to their medical appointments, buy groceries or pick up a prescription at a pharmacy.
To strengthen transportation in the East Metro, Ramsey County and project partners are leading three major transit projects: Gold Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), with construction starting in 2022 and service expected to begin in 2024; Rush Line BRT, on track to start operating in 2026; and the Riverview Corridor, now beginning its environmental and pre-engineering phase, with construction beginning as soon as 2028.
These three East Metro lines are key links in our region’s transit system that will connect communities, jobs, retail, education, and recreation destinations. With all-day service in both directions, every ten minutes during rush hours and every fifteen minutes throughout the day, these three projects are poised to help our region recover and thrive.
The last six months have been interesting, to say the least. The silver lining of 2020 has been the surprise opportunity to pause, think about what we're doing and how we're doing it, and embrace change and innovation, in ways that make sense.
I've heard from many of you that with the uncertain future, planning for what's next is hard. It's hard for us as well. But the one constant in all this change is that time marches on. So we'll keep marching too.
Fall at SPACC is about finishing out this year's work and planning for next, so that's just what we're doing. We're already incorporating more flexibility and embracing the unknowns, so whatever change 2021 brings (dare we wonder?) it should be less jarring than this year was. We are also going to double down on public affairs communications and getting members more informed and more involved, because the more power you have, the better.
YOU have an integral part in our planning work for 2021, so don't be surprised if I reach out to ask for your opinion or feedback. Members continue to be the lifeblood and backbone of this organization, and the public policies that matter to you, matter to us.
If you already have thoughts to share, please, don't hesitate to let me know. Working together, even from afar, is the only way we're really going to move forward.
Director of Public Affairs
Follow me on Twitter @Shannon_SPACC
I’ve been looking at the weather forecast, and it looks like we’ve got some fall weather ahead. I’m looking forward to more open windows.
I don’t know about you, but one of the first things I did this week was enter the lottery for the next State Fair Food Parade - it’s coming back! Enter the lottery for the Fall Food Parade. The encore event is October 1-4 and 8-11. Be sure to enter to get your chance to eat your way through the fair this year!
How pleased I am to be able to end this week dwelling on the words of former Senator Norm Coleman. He was the keynote at our annual Leaders in Local Government Awards event today. I forget how inspiring he is, how much I want to live in his city, in his town. He embodies so much of what I appreciate – a deep love for St. Paul, a clear understanding of the role of government alongside business, optimism that our best days are still ahead of us.
Truly, today was all about celebrating public servants, and only a few get recognized, even at our events. I’d like to say Thank You, to those of you who serve in some capacity. From career public servants, to elected officials, to chamber teams, to volunteers. Senator Coleman reminded us – and it’s worth saying again – that we will get through this, recovery is in our future, and together we can have our “best days yet.”
Enjoy the fresh breeze this weekend!
Today we were thrilled to present the annual Leaders in Local Government Awards!
The Leaders in Local Government Awards honor leading individuals and organizations that exemplify and demonstrate innovation, excellence, and success in local government. Finalists are selected based on their contributions to innovative initiatives or policies that advance the public good while demonstrating a commitment to efficient and responsive government.
Business Retention and Expansion
City of Rosemount WINNER!
Saint Paul Port Authority
The City of Rosemount Economic Development department has really been an asset to the city, with efforts such as hiring an additional staff member, and sharing creative posts on social media regarding the city and promoting local businesses. Their Rosemount Business Bulletins have included important information for the businesses in Rosemount during COVID. The Rosemount Cares initiative encouraged all of us to stand together as a community and participate in cohesive action to keep our residents, employees, and customers safe. The city created the Rosemount CARES grant program and allocated $500,000 towards it, which provided $10,000 grants for small businesses affected by COVID. They also developed branded marketing materials and templates, which were a big help to the business community.
Communications and Marketing
Ramsey County WINNER!
Saint Paul Port Authority
Saint Paul – Ramsey County Public Health’s COVID-19 Hmong and Karen Community Outreach and Public Information and Communications teams
In late 2019, Ramsey County launched www.RamseyCountyMeansBusiness.com, to attract and retain businesses to the region. The site offered the first incentives dashboard layering development programs and incentives across city-county-state jurisdictions and identified key redevelopment properties across the county, linking them to various redevelopment incentives available. Just a few months later, the world came to a halt due to Covid-19. RamseyCountyMeansBusiness.com became the landing spot for real time information. The premise around the incentives dashboard was replicated for a recovery dashboard allowing the business community to quickly identify business relief resources and technical assistance through the myriad of government programs available.
Dakota County & Dakota County Community Development Agency
Metro Transit Police Department Homeless Action Team WINNER!
Ramsey County Workforce Solutions and Saint Paul Public Library
The Homeless Action Team (HAT) assists folks who are utilizing Metro Transit buses and trains as shelter. The object was to meet people where they are at and offer tools and resources from shelter to clothing and food. They have also helped in finding them employment. Last year over 100 individuals and families were housed. Relationships and trust have been built, and this team continues to check in on past clients while they continue moving forward with new clients. Once you are able to change the trajectory for one person in a family, others start to see that change is possible.
Planning, Land Use and Public Works finalists
City of Shoreview
City of Vadnais Heights WINNER!
Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy
After establishing a street reinvestment plan as a top priority, the Vadnais Heights City Council authorized a city-wide assessment of pavement conditions. The “PCI” uses a nationally recognized ranking to characterize the condition of pavement at a moment in time. The citywide average was similar to a letter grade of C or C minus. The City Council authorized nearly $2 million dollars of construction for residential streets for 2020. With a long-term plan in place, the City Council has also worked to implement a long-term funding strategy. This includes fees that are dedicated and helps build a sustainable funding source for the future.
South Saint Paul Police Department, West Saint Paul Police Department and Dakota County Sheriff Department
Maplewood Fire Department
Maplewood Police Department WINNER!
Since 2017, the Maplewood Police Department had been emphasizing community outreach, racial equity, and diversity in hiring. This coincides with the City of Maplewood’s overall strategic priority of “Community Inclusiveness,” which has led to systematically changing hiring, training and promotion of all staff, with an emphasis on Public Safety. Among other metrics, the department has achieved a125% increase in hiring non-traditional police officers (women, people of color) and has increased police-community outreach from a few dozen hours annually to more than 2000. This emphasis has built accountability, trust and transparency and benefits the department and the entire Maplewood community.
Elected Official of Note
Dakota County Commissioner Thomas Egan
Senator Norm Coleman did us the honor of providing our keynote address, reminding us about the power of positivity. Thank you for joining us, Senator!
A big thank you to our East Metro Chamber Partners who joined us in the production of this event:
Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce
Midway Chamber of Commerce
Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce
Minnesota Hmong Chamber of Commerce
Oakdale Area Chamber of Commerce
River Heights Chamber of Commerce
White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce
And of course, our sponsors,
Presenting Sponsor Bremer Bank
Corporate Sponsors Comcast, Securian Financial, Shaw-Lundquist, and WSB
Contributing Sponsors 5 Eyewitness News, CliftonLarsonAllen and Platinum Bank
See you in 2021 for the next Leaders in Local Government Awards!
Greetings and Happy Monday. I hope you had a weekend that recharged and reenergized you. This past weekwend I went camping with my sister; there’s something about a campfire and great conversation that sets things right, you know? My wish is that you are finding moments like this as well…
As another virtual week begins, I’m sending thoughts of encouragement to you, the business community, looking into the Fall with no indications that the restrictions governing commerce will ease anytime soon. We all need moments to be recharged and reenergized because thing are really hard right now. For all of us.
October 5-6 can be such a moment. On those two days, the Saint Paul Area and Minneapolis Regional Chambers are hosting our annual InterCity Leadership Visit (ICLV). For 18 years, the chambers have taken an invitation-only delegation of elected officials, Fortune 500 executives, small business owners, chamber board members, and nonprofit leaders to another community to study best practices. We launched this initiative by traveling to Denver in 2002 and have since traveled to Seattle, Boston, Dallas, San Diego, Toronto, Atlanta, Charlotte, Austin, Portland, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Nashville, to learn about city and regional best practices.
This year – we are visiting…Minneapolis and Saint Paul. And we’re opening up the gates of invitation. If we all are locked in to this virtual world of communication, then we’re going to do so together – and we’ll virtually bring in people from across the country to talk about this region, and what we need to do to move forward. We can’t pack a suitcase; but we still can come together – to recharge, to reenergize, together. REGISTER TODAY
Welcome back after what I hope was a rejuvenating weekend. I had some quality time with two toddlers, and – though now full of pronto pups and waffles – I actually feel energized as we start this new week.
I continue searching for official notice of an anticipated one-day Special Session this week. Nothing yet, though informal sources are anticipating something for this Friday. I’ll keep you posted.
Had a great conversation with DEED Commissioner Grove this morning. I continue to be impressed by his thoughtful approach to this work. He knows this is a challenging season for business – that, for some, it’s a challenge of “how” to get through, for others it’s a challenge of “IF” we get through. DEED is looking to begin new conversations about what recovery looks like, around re-skilling, social safety nets, and supporting new business starts (though seemingly counterintuitive, economic upheaval often is the springboard for many new business ventures to begin).
Among their many priorities, DEED also continues to look specifically at how to support large venues and restaurants. Restaurants are desperate, particularly as the weather turns. And DEED is considering the proposals suggested around increasing inside capacity. That said, I’m not hearing any indications of immediate change, “dialing back” or moving forward.
Which brings me to Saint Paul’s Ready Together pledge: no matter the changes the Governor calls for, ultimately the decisions about where to spend our money and our time are made by individuals. We determine how safe we feel in different environments. Businesses can help assuage concerns by committing to the Ready Together pledge. Over 100 businesses have signed up already.
Ready Together is showcased during this 8-minute radio interview broadcast nationally in 25 major markets starting with St. Louis and Chicago. Terry Mattson shares how Saint Paul is ‘ready when you are’ with hosts, Kevin and Sue McCarthy.
The Ready Together toolkit includes a link for participants to upload photos, which get added to the pledge’s homepage (scroll to the bottom).
Sign the pledge!
We were blessed with a beautiful weekend… and school starts next week!
Over the weekend it was announced that Minnesota gets federal approval for additional $300 weekly unemployment benefits. The good news: if you already are receiving unemployment benefits, you don’t need to do anything new or different. DEED’s Unemployment Insurance Department will review all payment requests made the week of July 26 going forward, and automatically pay applicants who are eligible.
Ready for the next Special Session? If you remember, earlier in August Governor Walz signed an EO extending the state’s peacetime emergency through September 11 (initially declared on March 16). More to come, but we can expect another Special Session soon to extend another month.
Last Wednesday, August 26, was Women’s Equality Day and 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. This is a hallmark moment in history, though this amendment did not grant all women the right to vote, specifically women of color. Indeed, most Black women would wait nearly 5 decades more to actually exercise that right.
Please take the time to learn more! To commemorate this historic centennial, the Women's Business Development Center, in collaboration with Target, is launching ‘Raising Up The Vote’ , a virtual nonpartisan campaign designed to increase awareness and drive action around the long-lasting impact voting has on communities now and into the future.
The campaign is 11-weeks long, launched on 8/26 and will continue up until election day in November. As part of the campaign they have created a podcast series called ‘Make Your Mark’, which will launch on 9/21. Also, as part of the campaign landing page they have a link to a curated resource page for resources related to voting, gender and racial equality and all things civic engagement related.
Ultimately, it is proof that women have triumphed in difficult circumstances before and we can again. We need that reminder now more than ever amid a sobering avalanche of news in recent weeks about the impact of the pandemic on working women. Study after study is now confirming what many of us already know and feel – while juggling work and childcare responsibilities is tough on all parents, women are bearing the greatest share of this increased COVID-19 related load.
How are women doing in leadership? One report found that there are 9.1 million women-owned businesses across the U.S. that employ 7.9 million people. These businesses generate a total of $1.4 trillion in sales, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners.
The latest Fortune 500 list reveals that 37 companies (7.4%) have female CEOs, an increase from 33 in 2019. Seven of the 37 women lead Fortune 100 companies. While the 2020 Fortune 500 list has the highest number of female CEOs in history, only three of the CEOs included on the list are women of color and there are no Black or Latina women represented, a decline from 2019. This data illustrates the lack of diversity among the percentage of female CEOs on the Fortune 500 list and highlights the work that still needs to be done to increase gender and racial diversity at the highest-levels of the business community.
We are a work in progress people, and it requires great intentionality to diversify our leadership. We are better for it!
Three steps the Minnesota Legislature should take to dismantle the Capitol’s structural partisanship
How do we fix the gridlock? In part, we fix the rules and traditions that create the “winner take all” system.
By Shannon Watson. Originally published by MinnPost
As the legislative and campaign seasons collide this year, the politics that are always part of the process have had an increasingly intrusive role in governing. Some of this is a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to call the Legislature back repeatedly. But this is also an unintended consequence of how our state-level legislative bodies are organized in Minnesota.
During campaign season, partisanship, competition, and differing views of governance are appropriate – campaigns are contests, after all. In November voters will go to the polls and decide which candidates will win, but most important: who will control the State House and Senate.
There are a lot of benefits in winning a majority, which is why the parties work so hard to achieve that goal. However, the infrastructure that encourages continued partisanship and division after the polls close is a problem. The Minnesota Legislature should take three steps to dismantle the structural partisanship that currently exists at the Capitol. How do we fix the gridlock? In part, we fix the rules and traditions that create the “winner take all” system.
Integrate legislators’ offices
First, integrate legislators’ offices. Currently offices are segregated by body and party. At the start of each biennium, offices are distributed based on seniority – the majority members pick within their space, and the minority within theirs. Instead of encouraging that separation, we need more opportunities for members to connect informally and build relationships – say hello in the hall, make small talk while waiting for the microwave, share photos of their kids. The floors and wings that are currently divided should be mixed up and offices be picked by seniority across the chamber, not solely within caucuses.
Or, as a more extreme fix, at the start of the 2021 session, do a lottery for offices that will become the permanent home base for that district moving forward – even if the person holding the seat changes, the office location would stay the same.
Depoliticize the staff
Second, it’s time to depoliticize the staff. Campaigning is about activism and winning. Legislating is about governing and coalition building. As long as the same people are doing jobs supporting both goals, with the opportunity to use one as a vehicle to advance the other, the culture at the Capitol isn’t going to get any better. Governing should not be about winning – or worse, obstructionism with the intent of denying the other side a win. Fiscal and legal staff are already nonpartisan, so reclassify committee administrators, legislative assistants, constituent services, and research to match.
Most important, eliminate partisan caucus communications departments. Currently, the caucuses have taxpayer-funded communications staff. Both the Senate and House have official nonpartisan media service departments – those should be more than sufficient for promoting the news of the government. The only reason for partisan communications departments to exist is to promote partisan talking points. Taxpayers should not be funding political operations at the Capitol. While this kind of communication is appropriate for campaigning, it is not necessary for governing, and as we’ve seen this year, is actually hurtful to the legislative process. If the parties want to promote their positions on issues outside the Capitol, they can. But having state employees, paid for by taxpayers, advancing partisan positions isn’t helpful. Stop paying for it and stop letting it drive more wedges into the governing process.
Reform the committees
Third, reform the committees. Instead of having all committees chaired by members of the majority party, have them co-chaired by members of the majority and minority. This would mean the co-chairs trade holding the gavel and running the meetings — much as members of conference committees do — and would share the responsibility of determining which bills get hearings. Having co-chairs and a nonpartisan committee administrator would also ensure that any omnibus bills coming out of committee would be created with input from members of both parties. (This move in and of itself could drastically reduce the number of amendments being proposed from the floor.)
Much has been talked about how this year’s bonding bill has been held up by the minority in the House. From my perspective, I’m not surprised. The 60% supermajority is the only issue on the agenda this year that requires the minority caucus’ participation and approval to pass. When you give a caucus one place to participate, a chair at only one table so to speak, of course they’re going to use it. When you only have one card to play, you make it count.
The only detriment in being in the minority party should be that you have to work harder to get members to vote for your ideas. But right now the structure in both chambers works against too many elected members and their constituents, just because they were elected to the minority.
A pandemic situation can’t be changed. But the structural issues that add to the dysfunction can. Even casual observers of the “inside baseball” inner workings at the Capitol know that there’s way too much campaigning that’s conflicting with governing. Let’s fix the system. Let’s reform the infrastructure to support a focus on governing for the people of Minnesota, and minimize the campaigning at the Capitol.
Shannon Watson serves as the Director of Public Affairs at the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and is the founder of Definitely Someday. Watson worked on campaigns on both sides of the aisle for 20-plus years, as well as the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Minnesota Senate. She is a 2020-21 policy fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Lots of work going on in support of business!
Visit Saint Paul is offering a Ready Together Pledge. The idea is to bring business together under a commitment to cleanliness and safety. What happens when you sign up? By taking the pledge, your business will be listed so visitors and customers can be made aware of your participation. You will also gain access to resources and marketing tools to help communicate your pledge and commitment to public health. Not regulatory, not punitive, simply us banding together in support of us. Sign the pledge for business inclusion here
In case you missed it, last Thursday Mayor Carter announced his proposed budget and it calls for a zero percent tax increase and no layoffs for city staff. Our thoughts? Here is our statement – cautiously optimistic.
Tax implications of COVID-19 are with us all year. For those of you unable to capitalize on a PPP, you may be eligible for the Employee Retention Tax Credit. The SBA is providing training on this and other tax relief options. This week is on August 26, 9 a.m. CT; Register here. Other training and links to the SBA are at the bottom of this email. The SBA is really engaged here; take advantage of the tools and training they offer!
And for those of you considering new employment options, be sure to check out the Ramsey County jobs board. Many companies ARE hiring!
And, finally: You are invited to attend a Ramsey County Community Build Session being held Aug 31 - Sept 1 via video conferencing. This is a friendly reminder to register, if you haven't already, and/or share the invitation with your networks. These sessions are being held by Ramsey County Community and Economic Development to inform the development of a county-wide Competitiveness and Inclusion Strategic Plan that will guide its economic future.
Mon. Aug 31 @ 10:00 a.m. | Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Mon. Aug 31 @ 3:00 p.m. | Industry and Infrastructure
Tues. Sept 1 @ 10:00 a.m. | Placekeeping: Corridors and Culture
Tues. Sept 1 @ 3:00 p.m. | Affordable Housing Development
For more information, read the brief attached or visit the County's Plan Engagement website (scroll to the bottom of the homepage to register).
One last note: because we’ve been watching this, an update on USPS from Lockridge Grindal Nauen, earlier today: The House on Saturday passed a bill aimed at rolling back service cuts at the U.S. Postal Service that many say could harm the ability of Americans to vote by mail in the November general election. The Delivering for America Act would allocate an additional $25 billion for the Postal Service. The bill passed on a vote of 257 to 150, with all Democrats and 26 GOP members voting yes, including Minnesota Congressman Pete Stauber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated the Senate would not be taking up the House bill, and the White House has threatened to veto it should it come to the President’s desk.
One of the hardest things about the COVID-19 pandemic, in my opinion, is how long the recovery is going to take. The economic slowdown has had deep impact. There are things that can be done to help, and there are things that can be done that might feel good, but will hurt in the long run.
Our public affairs department is reminding local units of government that business assistance must be prioritized, to understand that the employer community cannot take on extra burdens at this time, if we want our entire community to be able to grow our way out of the economic slowdown.
We recognize the significant challenge governments are facing in drafting 2021 budgets, in light of increased emergency expenditures and declining revenue. Every business across the county is making the same kind of decisions right now, but without the benefit of levy authority and "guaranteed customers" that units of government depend on for their revenues.
As we move forward with this conversation, it is important to remember that the most efficient tool for community recovery is the ability of residents to work and have a good paying job, so assisting employers’ ability to bring people back to work must be an absolute priority. If a business can’t afford to stay in operation, their absence will only make the recovery take longer for all of us.
As always, we thank you for being partners in the work. If your business is still looking for specific assistance, budgetary or otherwise, please let us know.
Director of Public Affairs
Follow me on Twitter @Shannon_SPACC