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Why St. Paul's Historic Heart is Home Base to These Four Businesses

West Academic

Big River Pizza

"Flight of the Imagination" by Deanne L. Parks

What’s MSP’s hottest neighborhood? Most will say the North Loop in Minneapolis. But the Lowertown neighborhood in downtown St. Paul is the one consistently snagging headlines as America’s top hipster zip code. Lowertown may be charting a lower-key path to prosperity than the burgeoning North Loop. But one of Lowertown’s newest developments, CHS Field, is surrounded by a growing roster of relocated and expanded businesses—some uprooted from the suburbs, others spun out of Lowertown’s premier coworking space (COCO), and some born and bred in the district’s office lofts and storefronts.
High-tech software companies, cutting-edge marketing firms, next-generation publishers, innovative eateries, ascendent breweries: Lowertown has it all. So far, “it all” is (mostly) coexisting alongside the artists and makers who stabilized the neighborhood after the long, sad march of mid-20th century deindustrialization. Those urban pioneers helped preserve much of the area’s 19th and early 20th century building stock—a big, beautiful draw for the next wave of Lowertowners.
Here’s a look at four thriving Lowertown businesses: Where they’ve been, where they’re going, and why they’ve chosen St. Paul’s historic heart as their home base.
West Academic Publishing: 444 Cedar St.
West Academic may not be Lowertown’s sexiest company: West Academic publishes traditional legal textbooks and casebooks, legal audiobooks and software programs—the law student’s bread and butter (and, perhaps, bane). But the company, which was spun off from Thomson Reuters (the information services conglomerate) a few years back, relocated downtown from its former parent’s suburban Eagan campus — trading out-of-the-way corporate digs for a hip office in the heart of the city. (In a way, the move was a long-overdue homecoming, as West Academic’s predecessor division started in downtown St. Paul during the first decade of the 20th century.)
The move was a transparent attempt to attract young “digital natives”—those sought-after millennials — to an industry that’s faced more than its fair share of tech-driven challenges. “We knew moving to St. Paul would help us recruit talented people,” Chris Parton, president and CEO, told The Line last year. “People want to work—and be—in city centers again.” Not coincidentally, West Academic is growing: Since moving downtown, the company has added about 30 employees, with plans to hire more this year.
Docalytics: 213 E. 4th St.
An early COCO success story, Docalytics continues to chug along in the coworking pioneer’s Lowertown space. Co-founder Evan Carothers describes the past two years as a whirlwind of activity for the company: “We scaled up and down a few times, built a large remote contract workforce and most recently were acquired by New York-based Contently.”
Acquired? Yes. But still thriving and potentially part of a big-time growth story. According to Contently, an ambitious online publishing company, Docalytics is an integral part of a coast-to-coast expansion plan that could fundamentally change how electronic content is delivered and consumed.
In the near term, says Carothers, Contently is treating Docalytics as its Northern product office. That means a lot of new tech jobs in Lowertown. “We are hiring currently [with] the intent to scale to upward of 15 to 20 employees within 18 months or so,” says Carothers. “We will be staying in COCO until we outgrow the space or find a great local office in Lowertown.”
Despite Contently’s New York mindset, Carothers adds, the company “recognizes the great place Minnesota is to live, work and build a team—and the amazing talent we have here.”
GovDelivery: 408 St. Peter St.
Not far from Docalytics’ doorstep, another growing tech company is turning big-money East Coast backing into Lowertown prosperity. Now a wholly owned subsidiary of Washington, D.C.-based Actua, GovDelivery is the preeminent provider of high-tech government communications and marketing solutions.
Born and bred in Lowertown, GovDelivery launched several industry cycles ago—back in 2000, to be exact, when Facebook was still a gleam in a curly-haired high school kid’s eye—as a scrappy, underfunded upstart. Today, it has more than 200 employees, 100 million users, an eight-figure revenue stream, and relationships with local and regional governments around the world. Oh, and GovDelivery boasts a virtually unheard-of 99 percent customer retention rate.
Like many successful tech companies, GovDelivery figured out how to change one specific niche’s outdated paradigm. In GovDelivery’s case, that niche was government communications. The company took a page from successful private marketing companies specializing in marketing automation, which is now all but ubiquitous. (If you clicked through to this story from The Line’s newsletter, you’re a marketing automation user. Congratulations!)
As a first mover in the public-sector marketing automation niche, GovDelivery has immeasurably improved the quality, speed and efficacy of government communications. “We are truly the most widely-used platform by public sector because…[we’ve] been able to learn and adapt things really well out of that [private] marketing automation space,” Scott Burns, CEO, told SaaScribe in February. That’s great news for Lowertown.
Big River Pizza: 280 5th St. E
Move over, Punch; there’s another Neapolitan pizza game in town. Actually, Big River Pizza has been slanging “Minne-politan”-style pizza for a while now, thanks to an innovative “mobile pizza oven” that trawled the streets of MSP at mealtimes. Big River’s bread and butter was local and regional farmer’s markets.
Last year, Big River Pizza’s owners decided they wanted a more permanent presence—somewhere to hang their hat between pizza runs. So they set up shop in the Lofts at Farmers Market, just across the street from the St. Paul Farmer’s Market and CHS Field.
“We couldn’t be more excited to be...within feet of the Farmer’s Market,” said Steve Lott, Big River Pizza’s owner and head chef, said in a news release per the Pioneer Press. “We are thrilled to be...in an area with so much activity and vitality…[and] to continue to call Saint Paul home.”
If you don’t live or work in downtown St. Paul, Big River Pizza is just one more reason to get down to Lowertown (and, hey, maybe catch a game at CHS Field or tour the St. Paul Art Crawl). But if you’re too busy to make the trek, never fear: Big River’s mobile pizza oven isn’t hanging up its stones anytime soon.

Brian Martucci is The Line's Innovation and Jobs News Editor.
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