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Central Corridor : Innovation + Job News

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U of M Launches Product Design Program to Grow Local Talent

MSP proudly hosts “major product design companies like Target, 3M, Medtronic, General Mills, Cargill,” says Dr. Barry Kudrowitz, McKnight Land-Grant Professor of Product Design at the University of Minnesota. However, he adds, “They’re all hiring their product designers from other states.”

Kudrowitz and the U of M are changing that, as Kudrowitz has helped spearhead the new Product Design major that the college introduced this fall and he’s excited to see how it develops with time.

Product Design is similar to engineering, he says, but with more creativity and humanistic skills. “There is a need for a different kind of designer, someone that can do the technical stuff and the artistic side of things,” he explains. Product Design will bring a new type of designer to the workforce, he says, one that has the technical skills to make a product work, but is also a dynamic and creative team player.

Kudrowitz was inspired by programs in northern Europe, having worked as a visiting researcher in the Netherlands and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The U of M recruited him after he earned his Ph.D. at MIT, where he developed a Toy Design class that he’s brought to the U of M as part of his new program. He also teaches the intro course, Creative Design Methods.

Product Design began as a minor in the graduate school before moving to the U’s undergraduate program a few years ago. As more students signed up for the classes, the U was also approached by local businesses to develop something in tune with their needs.

“We had a handful of town hall meetings where we would get several dozen industry representatives sharing what they think the major should be,” Kudrowitz explains. “They all want to hire people from this program.” While there is industry support, the U has been careful that it maintains an educational focus while cultivating tomorrow’s designers—who will hopefully stay in the Minnesota workforce.

Local companies are involved in the classroom, leading development ideas and sponsoring design concepts, but for Dr. Kudrowitz it’s about using that experience to show how design works at a fundamental level, whether that’s starting with a toy or making a specialized manufacturing product. It’s about building a portfolio and experience for students in a hands-on environment that mixes engineering, anthropology, business and industrial design.

In his U of M Toy Design class, the emphasis is on process while using a product that everyone understands. “We could call the class Product Design,” he says. “We just happen to be making toys because it’s naturally fun to design something for play.” But whether designing a toy or a medical device, he says, his classes teach the same business lessons.

In the 2016-2017 school year, the Product Design program is only open to transfer students who have changed majors, about 30 in total. Kudrowitz expects about 40 new students will be accepted when the program opens to incoming freshmen next year.
 

Auslandish: Whimsical Worlds and Entrepreneurial Collaborations

 
 
It’s a world in which the rugged coastline of Lake Superior’s North Shore is rendered in brightly colored forms and tribal motifs, and populated with T Rexes, octopi and UFOs. National parks receive the same treatment, swirling in ribbons of pattern and color; places where silvery robots and furry Bigfoots camp and fly fish with their dinosaur pals.
 
If you haven’t guessed by now, this is Auslandish, worlds created by St. Paul artist and illustrator Sarah Nelson. She recently hosted her first pop-up art sale in the Creative Enterprise Zone of St. Paul, in conjunction with the opening of an online store featuring her work and collaborations with other artists. A hot item during the pop up was a new bag designed by Ashley Duke of Viska, a Minneapolis company, festooned with one of Nelson’s whimsical images.
 
The story begins when Nelson was working at a café and her boss told her to take a Sharpie and draw on the walls. “So I did,” she says. “And a style emerged.”
 
“The art I do is primarily whimsical and illustration based,” she says, “and incorporates a lot of detail, pattern and story.” Why the UFOs and dinosaurs? “I like to take moments and natural places that are magical and bring in the otherworldly, to reflect what’s being experienced in your mind and heart at the moment. Weird whimsical creates help commemorate that feeling.”
 
In 2013, Corner Table restaurant in Minneapolis commissioned Nelson to create a hand-illustrated, custom wallpaper for the space. “People strted resonating with the work,” she says, “and I started getting commissions,” including from City Pages. “I realized this could become a business. I decided this work was bringing joy to people.” So mashing up words like outside and outlandish, while referencing her Austrian upbringing, resulted in Auslandish. An early show of her work sold out in less then 24 hours.
 
Nelson creates from her studio in the Midway neighborhood and she’s seeking out new collaborative opportunities. She’s currently working on a local band’s album, exploring innovative work with textile artists and still designing wallpaper.
 
The online store includes prints, originals and hand-crafted goods created in collaboration with other artisans. Auslandish next pops up at the Women Artists + Entrepreneurs Holiday Bazaar, November 10 at Woodford Sister Photography in the California Building in NE Minneapolis.
 

Urban Growler expands menu, kitchen, beer selection and distribution

Urban Growler is booming. And co-founders Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak have a lot on their plate, from a long-awaited kitchen and menu expansion to a new Kickstarter campaign and a rapidly growing distribution footprint. The St. Anthony Park brewery now has 22 employees, with 17 between the brewery and taproom, and 5 in the kitchen. That’s up from about a dozen when the brewery first opened.
 
“We thought we could get by with 12 or 13 people,” says Pavlak, but Urban Growler’s runaway popularity quickly spurred another hiring round. “You need to have enough [employees] to provide excellent customer service,” she says. “That’s what keeps people coming back.”
 
The kitchen expansion tops on the agenda. Pavlak hopes to have the kitchen expanded by mid-winter, but warns of unexpected delays or complications.
 
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned since we began,” she laughs, “it’s that timetables can slip.” She and Loch had to push back Urban Growler’s opening date several times due to unforeseen complications.
 
The new kitchen’s menu will expand to include burgers and other entrees made from organic, locally sourced meats. Urban Growler cultivates relationships with local producers whenever possible, says Pavlak, noting a particularly poetic relationship with Mark and Jesse Gilbertson, a pair of western Wisconsin farmers who frequent the St. Paul Farmers’ Market. Pavlak hands off Urban Growler’s spent grains to the Gilbertsons to be used as animal feed
 
“They tell us their cows, hogs and chickens love them,” says Pavlak. “The grains are sweet, but also wholesome and protein-rich.”
 
Once the new menu is in place, Pavlak and Loch plan to buy beef, and possibly pork and chicken, from the Gilbertsons, creating a sustainable circle. Pavlak says the new kitchen may also use spent grains in house-made bread and cookies, though “we’re still working on the recipes,” she warns.
 
Pavlak says the new kitchen’s Kickstarter campaign should be live before Christmas, but details on the funding amount and timeline still have to be worked out.
 
Separately, Urban Growler is also feverishly producing more beer to satisfy an expanding roster of brewery and restaurant clients, despite frustrating delays in fulfillment for Urban Growler’s branded tap handles. “We’re still sending out prototype tap handles,” laughs Pavlak.
 
Distributed beers include Cowbell Cream Ale, City Day Ale and Graffiti IPA. Most confirmed accounts are in the western suburbs, but Pavlak mentions Bar Louie in Uptown and Muffuletta in St. Anthony Park as local adopters. In October, a Muffuletta-Urban Growler beer dinner sold out in seven hours. “[Muffuletta’s manager] said that was a record,” says Pavlak.
 
Beyond the kitchen, Urban Growler’s interior configuration is changing for the better. Come January 1, the co-founders will take over a storage area next door that will house a gigantic cooler that now juts out into the seating area. The expanded kitchen will occupy part of its former footprint, with expanded seating and standing room in the remainder.
 
And Pavlak and Loch are weatherproofing the brewery, widely known for its spacious, sunny patio. An interior vestibule, installed in November, should shield the high-ceilinged brewhouse/taproom from outdoor cold.
 

St. Paul Healthy Transportation convening engages communities in sustainable transit

The St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All Convening, held on October 25 at Carpenter’s Hall in St. Paul, found St. Paul’s alternative transportation advocates celebrating their movement’s growing momentum and planning for challenges ahead. The goal of the conference, according to St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All (SPHTFA), was to “actively engage St. Paul grassroots community leaders to create a sustainable multimodal transportation system.”
 
“Based on what our planning team has heard from community members, walkable streets with safe and accessible infrastructure is the most widespread issue,” says Lauren Fulner, who coordinates the “District Council [members], transportation focused non-profits and relevant agencies” that comprise SPHTFA. “[Our unofficial motto is] ‘everyone is a pedestrian at some point', so...awareness of the pedestrian realm is a natural place to focus.”
 
As SPHTFA’s first major event, the Convening drew community leaders and citizens from nearly every St. Paul neighborhood. At workshops and breakout sessions, participants learned how to lead conversations and initiatives around public and alternative transportation, collaborate with counterparts in other communities, and work directly with city and state decision-makers to effect positive change.
 
The Convening covered most of the day’s hot transit topics. Workshops included “You and the St. Paul Bike Plan,” “Racial Equity in Transit Decision Making” and “From Vision to Plan to Project.” The event also featured a session devoted to “Organizing Friendly Streets and Better Blocks,” which highlighted Fulner’s work with the Friendly Streets Initiative. And the conference explored useful tools for transportation advocates, including an “Equitable Development Scorecard” and a “walkability/accessibility survey” for SPHTFA attendees.
 
Despite St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All’s community-driven focus, the conference attracted key state and local leaders. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman opened with remarks on St. Paul’s transportation system, followed by Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger’s keynote speech on the health benefits of walking, biking and public transit. Charles Zelle, Minnesota’s Transportation Commissioner, closed with remarks on past and future developments in road use and public transit.
 
According to Fulner, SPHTFA formed out of “several years of conversations around more intentional collaboration and sharing of resources between District Councils,” with the Macalester-Groveland and Hamline-Midway councils taking the lead. Fulner stresses that SPHTFA is “in it for the long haul, in the sense that [this isn’t] a one event or one meeting kind of project,” she says. “We want to foster increased collaboration and creative, big picture thinking in community members and decision makers.”
 
SPHTFA takes a “whole city” approach to transportation, paying special attention to the needs of traditionally underserved communities and marginalized demographic groups, such as the elderly and people with disabilities. While celebrating the better-than-expected debut of the Green Line, Fulner is quick to point out that it “does not serve many of the traditionally under-represented and under-resourced neighborhoods and populations.”
 
“There needs to be more focus of the city as a whole, including the East Side and the West Side [meaning the area south of downtown],” she adds.
 
Overall, Fulner and SPHTFA would like stakeholders and citizens to recognize the fundamentally interconnected nature of St. Paul’s urban fabric and work to strengthen it. “Transportation and health are both issues that function in a web of interconnectivity, rather than as a series of isolated issues, and should be addressed with this in mind,” she says.”
 

WAM recreating iconic photo with Green Line train

The Weisman Art Museum’s (WAM) Wanderlust event, on Friday evening starting at 7 p.m., was named for the museum’s fall exhibitions—all of which are related to travel or transportation. One of those exhibitions, “Trains That Passed in the Night: The Photographs of O. Winston Link,” has inspired an elaborate re-creation of a signature Link photo using a Green Line train.
 
The re-creation is based on Link’s most famous photograph, which captured one of the country’s last commercially operational steam trains in the mid-1950s. The photo was shot at night, using flashes that illuminated the sides and top of the train, with a drive-in movie theater—replete with a symbolic airplane onscreen—in the foreground.
 
The recreated photograph will capture a specific Green Line train traveling out of the East Bank Station at around 7:15 p.m. The new image, overseen by well-known photographer and University of Minnesota assistant professor of photography Paul Shambroom, will feature a couple holding an iPad in the foreground, with the train negotiating a curved section of track in the middle ground.
 
Ten crews made up of MFA students and local photographers will set up lighting and other equipment (mostly donated by local companies) at various points along the route. Metro Transit will prepare the interior of the train with special lighting for better contrast. A radio-controlled system will ensure all the flashbulbs go off simultaneously.
 
“Paul really jumped on the idea when we pitched it to him,” says Erin Lauderman, WAM’s communications director. The completed photograph will hang in one of WAM’s galleries next to Link’s work.
 
The free Wanderlust event also includes “EXISTENTIA,” a performance art piece by Robert Niebor; Native Kids Ride Bikes, a traveling collection of lowrider bikes crafted by Native American kids from Michigan; and smoothies mixed using bicycle power.
 

Green Line Theater animates light-rail line on Saturday

Green Line Theater, an “original, mobile theater production” sponsored by the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative’s Catalyst Fund, will enliven the Green Line at 1 p.m. this Saturday, Oct 18, (or 1 p.m. this Sunday, in the event of a rainout). The production—created in partnership with the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s (MMAA) Project Space exhibition “From There to Here”—includes visual art and performances from artists Wing Young Huie, Ashley Hanson and Jessica Huang, as well as from members of the communities surrounding the Green Line.

The play comprises five scenes at five stops—Raymond, Hamline, Dale, Capitol/Rice and Central—and explores the “rich history, stories and collective memories associated with [Green Line] neighborhoods,” according to the MMAA. Creatively, it’s an extension and expansion of “Bus Stop Theater,” a Creative CityMaking collaboration that brought Huie and Hanson together last year.
 
Huie, Hanson, Huang and others developed the script in close consultation with Springboard for the Arts, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, and the African Development Center. The three organizations held “workshops and street engagements to collect stories about the neighborhoods along the Green Line,” using the information to “inform the script for the interactive play,” according to MMAA.

The audience will travel together from scene to scene, using the light rail as transportation, in a style of site-specific theater know as mobile theater. “Utilizing public transportation to move from scene to scene is not anything we have heard of happening here before last year, when [Wing and I] produced ‘Bus Stop Theater’,” Hanson says.

“The idea behind this type of mobile theater is to get the audience engaged with their public transportation system, the landscape that it moves through, and the other people who utilize public transportation,” adds Hanson. “In a way, we are turning transit vehicles into community meeting places.”
 
In addition to her work along the Green Line, Hanson’s PlaceBase Productions—a collaboration with artist Andrew Gaylord—puts on site-specific performances at locations across Minnesota. Paddling Theater, for instance, makes its way through the Minnesota River Valley by boat. We use “mobile theater to connect audiences to their physical landscape by producing stories...in the landscape [where they] occurred,” Hanson says.
 
Performers and audience members meet at the parking lot for 2314 University Ave W, near the Raymond Station. Though “Green Line Theater” is free, register for the event. A free, open-admission reception follows the last scene at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, in downtown St. Paul.
 
“We hope to continue exploring this medium in the hope that more people will bring theater outside the box,” Hanson says, “and engage with an audience that might not otherwise attend a theater production.”
 

Dino bike rack, Hmong fashion: Knight Arts Challenge winners

The Knight Foundation recently announced 42 winners of its first-ever St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge. The challenge tasked applicants with answering this question: “What’s your best idea for the arts in St. Paul?” The grants, totaling nearly $1.4 million, recognize creative initiatives from the Far East Side to St. Anthony Park.
 
In addition to providing their best ideas for the arts in St. Paul, the Knight Foundation requires successful applicants to demonstrate that that project will either “take place in or benefit St. Paul,” according to a release from the foundation. And each applicant must find funds to match the Knight Foundation’s awards. Some of notable winners include:
 
The “Smallest Museum in St. Paul,” $5,000
A project of almost-open WorkHorse Coffee Shop, in the Creative Enterprise Zone in St. Anthony Park, the “Smallest Museum in St. Paul” will be really, really small—a vintage fire-hose cabinet that couldn’t even hold a Labrador retriever. The museum will host rotating collections of artifacts, art and memorabilia from the neighborhood’s vibrant creative and academic communities. The first exhibit is scheduled for June. Future exhibits must follow three simple rules: celebrate local themes or history, engage the coffee shop’s patrons, and avoid high-value, theft-prone artifacts.
 
Fresh Traditions Fashion Show, $35,000
The Center for Hmong Arts and Talent won a sizable grant to expand its Fresh Traditions Fashion Show, the Twin Cities’ “only culturally inspired fashion event that exhibits the creativity, originality and quality of work by Hmong designers,” according to the Knight Foundation. At the show, designers must incorporate five traditional Hmong fabrics into clothing that hews to contemporary fashion. Part of the Knight Foundation grant will be set aside for career support and skills-building classes for individual designers.

Radio Novelas on the East Side, $50,000
Nuestro Pueblo San Pablo Productions, led by Barry Madore, will use its Knight award to produce a series of 20 fictional radio novelas that celebrate the history and culture of the East Side’s Latino community. Madore plans to promote the series with three live shows at yet-to-be-named venues around the district. Like Fresh Traditions Fashion Show designers, participating performers can count on support and training from Madore and his partners.
 
Paleo-osteological Bike Rack, $40,000
Artist and paleo-osteological interpreter Michael Bahl has plans to fabricate the bronze skeleton of a large dinosaur-like animal in repose, with its ribcage functioning as a bike rack. That bony crest on its skull? A bike helmet. The work focuses on how prehistoric skeletons, which are obsessed over by scientists and fossil hunters around the world—can also be viewed as works of art. “When the individual bones are joined in a united effort, a skeleton becomes the ultimate functioning mechanism, or in this case, a whimsical bike rack,” according to Knight’s website.

Twin Cities Jazz Festival, $125,000
More established organizations got a slice of the pie, too. The largest single grant went to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. The annual festival already draws more than 30,000 attendees, but organizers wanted to add more stage space and spring for better-known headliners. Performers have yet to be announced for next year’s event, in June, but executive director Steve Heckler is considering a move to the brand-new St. Paul Saints stadium, in the heart of Lowertown. That would create more seating space and facilitate pedestrian traffic from the Green Line stop at Union Depot.
 
The St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge will continue through 2016, with two more rounds of awards. All told, the foundation has earmarked $4.5 million to fund creative ideas, plus another $3.5 million for five established St. Paul arts institutions: Springboard for the Arts, Penumbra Theater, TU Dance, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and The Arts Partnership. St. Paul is just the fourth city to participate in the Knight Arts Challenge, after Miami, Detroit and Philadelphia.
 

TechDump expands job and recycling opportunities

Tech Dump, a technology recycling nonprofit based in Golden Valley, opened a second location on North Prior Avenue in St. Paul on September 22. The facility collects more than a dozen varieties of tech waste, from old computer monitors and TVs to batteries, cell phones and printer cartridges.
 
Tech Dump complements its commitment to responsible waste disposal with a mission to create jobs for “economically disadvantaged adults” who live in the area. The organization is an offshoot of the nonprofit Jobs Foundation, led by Probus Online founders George Lee and Tom McCullough. Lee and McCullough claim that for every 72,000 pounds of waste Tech Dump handles, the organization creates one job for one year.
 
Tech Dump finds its employees through partnerships with such Twin Cities nonprofits as Goodwill Easter Seals and Better Futures Enterprises, and referrals from current employees. “[The nonprofit partners] provide soft skills training and other pre-employment resources, then refer employees to us when we have openings,” says Amanda LaGrange, marketing director, Tech Dump.
 
She adds that,  “employees are very protective of our organization,” so they can recognize potential candidates who “really want to change and work toward a new future.”
 
Once hired, employees take on escalating responsibilities until they “graduate” from Tech Dump and find work at another employer. “We want to develop the skills that will make our staff the best employees in their next position,” LaGrange adds, such as “showing up to work on time each day, respecting managers and co-workers, accepting feedback and going the extra mile.”
 
Tech Dump handles old electronics in two ways: recycling and repurposing. For the former, Tech Dump employees take apart each piece of equipment, separate its electronic components and reduce them to the simplest state possible before shipping them off to a specialized facility for recycling. For the latter, Tech Dump workers repair or replace damaged or broken components and restore each piece of equipment to good working order.
 
With both processes, any stored data is destroyed (by force, not just erased) before usable components are harvested or recycled.
 
Tech Dump is cheap and inclusive, too. “We only charge for the items we have to pay to recycle, like CRT/tube TVs and monitors, rear projection TVs and fluorescent bulbs,” LaGrange says. Tech Dump is also “open to anyone—businesses and residents of any city, county or state.”
 
Ironically, Tech Dump started out as a furniture recycler. But an experimental “Tech Dump Day” in 2011 was wildly successful, turning Lee and McCullough on to local demand for responsible e-recycling. The pair exited the furniture recycling business in 2013 and set about building Tech Dump into a socially responsible powerhouse.
 
To sharpen its approach and develop new practices, Tech Dump regularly communicates with other recyclers, like Isadore Recycling in Los Angeles and Recycle Force in Indianapolis, which provide employment opportunities for teens and adults who have spent time in the criminal justice system.

Tech Dump is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for waste quantities of any size. Tech Dump also operates trucks that travel off-site, by appointment, to pick up larger amounts of waste.
 

ARENA DANCES collaborates with TC photographers on "Main St. Project"

Mathew Janczewski’s ARENA DANCES recently previewed its upcoming “Main St. Project” at a well-attended event in the patio space between the Marriott Courtyard Minneapolis Downtown and Town Hall Brewery. The event, called “Main St. Project: A Photography Unveiling,” included work from three Twin Cities’ photographers: Keri Pickett, Jack Armour and Wing Young Huie.
 
Their images of urban and small-town landscapes that have changed as a result of economic forces like suburbanization, big box retail and de-industrialization were projected on the brick exterior wall of the Southern Theater, where the multi-media performance “Main St. Project: The Evolution of Main Street: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” will run October 2-5. Performers from ARENA DANCES animated the imagery, which also included faces from Twin Cities' communities.
 
Following the show, some of the photographs were also projected onto the broad sides of buildings in the surrounding area, including the silos near the Guthrie Theater. Minneapolis Art on Wheels handled this aspect of the project.
 
The photographs will be incorporated into the October dance performance, as well. "When Mathew approached me to be a part of [his “Main St. Project”], I combed through my archives of photographs taken over 35 years," Huie says, "and selected 20 photos from about six different projects that I thought reflected a broad range of socio-economic and cultural realities in Minnesota."
 
According to ARENA DANCES, “Main St. Project” aims to answer a simple question: Does “Main St.” still exist? The dance performance incorporates “visceral and explosive movement [and] electro/techno/pop music, folk-inspired songs, and projections of filmed interviews with people from diverse communities and backgrounds” in pursuit of the answer. The photos add context to the performance by portraying historic and contemporary "Main Sts.," neighborhood intersections and city centers in various states of repair.
 
"All of the photographers and photography provide a great perspective on what 'Main St.' means," says Janczewski. "We're asking the question, 'How can we have a neighborhood-oriented future?'"
 
For Janczewski, the “Main St. Project” is personal. He grew up in Round Lake, Illinois, between Chicago and Milwaukee. As a child, he remembers a vibrant, community-focused town with a bustling downtown. Today, the town's economic engine has shifted to generic office parks and big box stores on its outskirts—a transformation repeated in countless other American communities.
 
Janczewski also wrestles with modern themes of alienation. Though he lives in a condo building, he says, there isn't always a sense of common purpose and community in his own neighborhood. And he's inspired by MIT professor Sherry Turkle's work on "technological isolation"—stories about how, despite being more connected than ever before, we feel depressed or inadequate when we interact with others online.
 
The project incorporates participants from ARENA DANCES’ Intergenerational Residency Program, an ongoing outreach initiative that facilitates dialogue between members of discrete, age-specific communities. The residency connected local middle- and high-school kids with residents of senior living facilities, who told stories of growing up in close-knit small towns and neighborhoods—quintessential "Main St." experiences.
 
The show includes a dynamic interplay of multimedia elements. A preview video on ARENA DANCES’ website shows unadorned performers in states of apparent bliss and others marked by frenetic bursts of energy against a backdrop of scattered newspapers, forlorn images and jarring bursts of light. The performing company is comprised of six local dancers: Elise Erickson, Sarah Baumert, Kimmie Allen, Timmy Wagner, Blake Nellis and Dustin Haug.
 

MN Social Impact Center to connect change agents

The Minnesota Social Impact Center (MSIC) will launch in early 2015 spearheaded by Katie Kalkman, Terri Barreiro and Beth Parkhill—three Twin Cities’ residents with deep roots in the local business community. MSIC aims to build on the momentum generated by other recent social innovation startups in the area, including Social Innovation Lab, Social Enterprise Alliance Twin Cities and GlobalShapers Hub.
 
According to MSIC's launch-event manager, Michael Bischoff, the organization’s goal is simple: Connecting “change agents” from the nonprofit, business, government and philanthropy sectors to improve citizen engagement, access to education and the arts, and conditions for Twin Cities residents of all ages.
 
Despite a dense concentration of such change agents right here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Bischoff laments, there’s no single framework for integrating their activities, or even ensuring that they’re on the same page. “Our goal is to foster real world solutions to address some of the greatest challenges facing our communities and the world,” Barreiro explains. “Pick any major issue and you’ll find groups convening in our region, seeking new answers that will achieve better results than what we have today.”
 
On November 12, MSIC hosts a “pre-launch” event (6:30 pm to 9:30 pm in Macalester College’s Kagin Ballroom). Macalester College is “a natural choice for the pre-launch event,” says Bischoff, “because social innovators have been gathering there for several years as part of the Bush Foundation’s Social Innovation Lab.”
 
The event will include announcements about specific programming initiatives and membership options, as well as material on “more than 30 stories of transformative social impact in Minnesota,” says Bischoff.
 
There is a sliding-scale fee for the event registration, but for $275 attendees can distinguish themselves as “founding members.” Although many details still have to be worked out, membership at MSIC would include access to a co-working space similar to those currently administered by Joule and CoCo. Other levels of membership would include access to MSIC’s facilities, staff, collaborators and other members—all offering a wealth of social enterprise expertise—without physical co-working space.
 
According to Bischoff, MSIC’s programming will initially utilize several spaces around the Twin Cities, but the organizations is in the market for a permanent location. Board members Kalkman and Tim Reardon are heading up the search, weighing site options in downtown St. Paul, along the Green Line and at unspecified locations in Minneapolis.
 
“We know innovators want us to get this going now,” says Reardon. “We need a minimum of 5,000 square feet to start. Long-term, we’ll need two to three times the space to build the right environment for this dynamic, interactive community.” Reardon and Kalkman hope to find a space, at least on a temporary basis, for the center’s anticipated launch.
 

GetKnit boosts experiences with local businesses

Minneapolis event-organizing company, GetKnit Events, is changing the way Twin Cities residents experience local businesses and attractions. On September 13, it pulled off its most ambitious and far-reaching experience yet: Rails & Ales, a self-guided tour of the breweries and brewpubs along the Green Line, from Target Field to Union Depot. Hundreds of participants sipped discounted brews, previewed special cask releases and rubbed shoulders with some of the most innovative brewers in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
 
For GetKnit founder Matt Plank, connecting Twin Citians with local business owners—preferably on a permanent basis—is the whole point. He and the company’s “core team” of paid employees, most of whom knew each other socially before GetKnit’s founding, are constantly looking for “ways that we [can pursue] our goal of community engagement while supporting local businesses in and around Minnesota,” says Plank.
 
Tickets for Rails & Ales sold out quickly, but a lucky group of several hundred attendees got their run of three establishments in Minneapolis and five in St. Paul, all within walking distance of the Green Line. (Though pedicabs were out in force to transport customers between stations and breweries, especially at farther-flung spots like Urban Growler and Bang Brewing.) Guests checked in at the Target Field, Stadium Village or Union Depot stations, where GetKnit staffers and volunteers handed out T-shirts, drink tokens (two per person, each good for a free pint) and “event passports” that listed participating breweries, their specials and Rails & Ales social media contests.
 
Other locally owned businesses got in on the act too. The Dubliner Pub, between the popular Raymond Avenue (Urban Growler and Bang) and Fairview Avenue (Burning Brothers) stops, ran all-day drink and food specials. Food trucks like Peeps Hot Box posted up outside participating breweries, tempting customers with daily specials. And even independent vendors, like the woman selling vintage glassware outside Bang, profited from the early-afternoon crush on a beautiful Saturday.
 
Meanwhile, the brewers themselves relished the chance to mingle with enthusiastic craft beer fans. At the Mill District’s Day Block Brewing, for instance, the head brewer handed out free pints to anyone who correctly guessed the varieties of hops laid out on the table before him. Rails & Ales wrapped up at 6 p.m., but brewery owners have to be hoping that the day provided a permanent boost in visibility.
 
GetKnit draws inspiration from other tour companies and event organizers, says Plank, but with a twist. Aside from the focus on locally owned business, which is lacking in some areas of the industry, the company aims for “wildly original” events “that our participants likely couldn’t do anywhere but through GetKnit.” You might be able to spend an entire Saturday riding the Green Line between breweries, in other words, but you probably wouldn’t be able to mingle with head brewers, try specially brewed cask releases or enter social media contests for free events and swag.
 
And unlike more bare-bones tour and event operators, GetKnit organizes well-staffed, all-inclusive events that “allow participants to turn off their brains for a day...and not worry about anything,” says Plank. For Rails & Ales, GetKnit had at least one representative at every participating brewery, in addition to staff at check-in stations. The goal was to facilitate “safe and responsible” enjoyment while showcase the ease of using local transit and “how much is accessible right off of its grid.”
 
GetKnit also designs bespoke events for private groups. Plank cites a recent example in which a group of Latin American businesspeople came to the Twin Cities for meetings and sightseeing. Many had never been to Minnesota, so Plank’s team set about creating the "quintessential Minnesotan experience” that included a horse-drawn carriage tour of St. Anthony Main, a brewery tour and tasting, a hands-on cooking class featuring Jucy Lucy burgers and even private curling lessons.
 
For now, GetKnit organizes events in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. But Plank doesn’t rule out the possibility of expanding the model to other regions, possibly with the help of knowledgeable locals. A recent St. Croix Valley winery tour did cross the Wisconsin border, and “we are playing with other events that might do more extensive tours of other areas in our neighbor to the east,” he says.
 

Corridors 2 Careers strengthens workforce development

Ramsey County’s successful Corridors 2 Careers pilot program—which connects economically disadvantaged residents of communities along the Green Line, including Frogtown, Summit-University and Cedar-Riverside, with workforce training resources and employers in the area—already has several notable successes.

According to the program’s exit report, more than 1,400 residents of Green Line neighborhoods participated in the initiative, and nearly 90 percent had no previous knowledge of workforce resources in the area. As a direct result of their participation, 65 local residents found gainful employment and an additional 47 enrolled in basic or continuing education classes.

The pilot project also encouraged local job applicants to obtain—and local employers to recognize—the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate, “a portable credential that demonstrates achievement and a certain level of workplace employability skills,” according to ACT. The public-private partnership between Ramsey County and Goodwill-Easter Seals will continue to push this certification.

Of the five-dozen employers that participated in the pilot project, more than half were unaware about local workforce development resources that connect prospective employees with willing employees in transit-served areas. At least eight hired Corridors 2 Careers participants.

Now, the project has blossomed into a larger partnership between Ramsey County Workforce Solutions, Ramsey County Workforce Investment Board and Goodwill-Easter Seals of Minnesota. At least nine workforce development organizations have already committed to support the partnership, which aims to increase the “alignment of workforce needs between the residents and employers” in the area, according to the press release announcing the partnership.

The Ramsey County Workforce Investment Board’s Alignment and Integration Committees will coordinate the activities of the participating organizations, including Goodwill-Easter Seals, which provides GED tutoring, job-specific skills training and job placement services to individuals who have been chronically unemployed, recently incarcerated, afflicted by homelessness, or who struggle with alcohol or chemical dependency.

Going forward, Corridors 2 Careers aims to connect at least 400 Green Line residents with job search assistance, and place at least 80 percent of those participants in entry-level jobs or job training programs. The goal is a “location-efficient economic development strategy” that encourages local employers to be more receptive to diverse residents’ cultural needs, refer rejected applicants to workforce development agencies, and create new, industry-specific employer clusters along the transit-dense Green Line.

With Goodwill-Easter Seals and the Ramsey County organizations acting as pillars for the initiative, local employers will be able to directly tap C2C for willing, well-trained workers, connecting unemployed residents who urgently need work and employers that require specific skill sets.

SimpleRay Solar maximizes sunny business potential

For Geoff Stenrick, owner and president of the Saint Paul-based SimpleRay Solar, sunshine is much more than a mood-lifting respite from winter’s bitter chill. It’s a way of life.

In 2006, Stenrick quit his job as a Saturn salesman and channeled his longtime fascination with renewable energy into a nascent solar panel business called SimpleRay Solar. He enrolled in a comprehensive training course in solar technology, installation techniques, and parts engineering, then signed on with three U.S. distributors and began selling their equipment through his website.

His timing couldn’t have been better. While SimpleRay’s early customers were often hard-core environmentalists committed to green living, the launch of California’s rebate program, in 2007, drew building contractors onto the site. Similar incentives followed shortly in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and other East Coast states. Still, Stenrick’s gig remained low-key through the late 2000s: After his daughter’s birth, in 2009, “I would have to send emails and work on the website while she napped,” he says.

Because of generous rebate programs, falling manufacturing costs, and end-users’ increasing demand for panels and accessories, things are much busier now. In 2011, Stenrick hired his first employee, a car-industry colleague. His company’s 2012 revenues were sufficient to earn a spot on the “Inc. 500” list for 2013. Last year, after several additional hires—SimpleRay now has seven employees—he moved into a permanent office on Raymond Avenue, in the Creative Enterprise Zone on the Central Corridor’s Green Line.

Stenrick’s team doesn’t just sell solar panels out of this new space: As part of a transaction, SimpleRay’s in-house engineering and design professionals often help clients plan and optimize their arrays.

The most exciting development, though, may be Minnesota’s recently passed “Omnibus Energy Bill,” an aggressive renewable-energy law that requires “all utilities in the state [to] procure 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar generation by 2020,” according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. By the end of the decade, predicts Stenrick, this requirement could boost in-state solar panel sales by a factor of 40.

Already, the law has dramatically increased the likelihood that the Aurora Solar Project, a planned cluster of about two dozen solar arrays in the state’s eastern half, will be built. SimpleRay doesn’t typically sell to utilities—it prefers small and medium-sized commercial and residential contractors, although it will soon contribute to a one-megawatt array in the area—but the increased demand that accompanies large-scale utility projects is sure to reduce panel costs and render the technology competitive with fossil fuels.

“A solar system works like a furnace,” says Stenrick. “You don’t need to replace it every five years. Instead, you’re basically prepaying for your power over the 20-plus-year lifespan of your system.” Thanks to industry-standard warranties that guarantee efficiencies of at least 80 percent over a 25-year span, this leads to dramatic long-term savings.

Even in Minnesota, with its short winter days and frequent cloud cover?

Yes, says Stenrick, noting that Minnesota gets more sun than many solar-friendly East Coast states—and far more than Germany, the world’s reigning solar energy leader. “On average, Germany gets about as much sunlight as Seattle,” he says, “and look at what they’re doing over there.”

Stenrick doesn’t minimize the obvious environmental benefits of solar power—“It’s better than blowing up a mountaintop for coal,” he half-jokes—but he’s more interested in touting the cost side of the equation. In California, solar power is already cost-competitive with fossil fuels, and the Omnibus Energy Bill suggests that Minnesota isn’t far behind. Eventually, Stenrick believes, the tax credits and rebates that currently support the U.S. solar industry will be obsolete.

“The whole idea of where you get your power from [will] totally change by 2030,” says Stenrick. “We hope to ride that wave.”

Source: Geoff Stenrick, SimpleRay Solar
Writer: Brian Martucci

Groundswell hosts artwork from MMAA/Galtier School collaboration

During a two-week residency, a group of 33 students from St. Paul’s Galtier Community School collaborated with the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) on a multifaceted art project called CuratorKids. The 4th and 5th grade students’ artworks will be exhibited at Groundswell, a nearby coffee shop, from Dec. 16 through Jan. 19. In the spring of 2014, the childrens' artwork will also be exhibited by MMAA.    

MMAA developed CuratorKids to address “the shortage of art education in our public schools by offering a program that brings art and practicing artists directly to the kids,” MMAA  materials state.

Through the program, students examined a handful of artworks from the museum’s collection, according to Heidi Swanson,  technology integration specialist at Galtier. Students then wrote poems about the museum pieces. The following week, students responded to the artwork in a different way -- by making mixed-media collages. In their collages, Swanson says, "They made artistic choices relating to color, objects, and emotion.”   

Diana Johnson, a consultant to the program, says the museum pieces became “source material" for the students. “These kids really were responding emotionally and aesthetically" to the museum works, she says, which they "turned into their own work."

After the residency wrapped up, the students recorded podcasts of their poems and videos of their collages. Their poems can be listened to online here.  

Johnson hopes the project helps the students gain confidence in artmaking, as well as in academic subjects. The school hasn’t had an art program for a number of years. But CuratorKids shows students that “they can do things they didn’t know they could," she says. "If they stick with it, they can surprise themselves and see that the world around them cares and is interested in them."   

As if in response to that sentiment, a group of school volunteers pitched in $300 to frame the collages for the coffee shop exhibit, according to Swanson. At Groundswell, the students’ recordings will be accessible online via QR codes that can be scanned by smartphones.  

Swanson hopes the residency inspires students’ ongoing creativity. Through programs like CuratorKids, she says, "We hope to build a bridge to our community and create opportunities for our students to share their successes beyond the school walls." 


Source: Heidi Swanson, technology integration specialist, Galtier Community School
Writer: Anna Pratt 















Survey asks: what businesses are best at Union Depot?

The Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA) wants to know what kinds of businesses should fill the Union Depot building in Lowertown St. Paul. Once restored, the historic building will be the eastern terminus of the future Central Corridor Light Rail line.

A short, anonymous survey is available online until June 26.

The information will be used for planning purposes, "to understand what kinds of businesses have an interest in opening a shop or selling their goods in Union Depot, and how Union Depot can become a vibrant part of the fabric of Downtown Saint Paul, in addition to serving as the premier multimodal transit hub of the region," says Daniel Fuchs, senior analyst for HR&A Advisors, which is assisting with the survey effort "to explore the best means for developing a vibrant mix of mutually-supportive local businesses and entrepreneurs in the building," according to a Ramsey County Regional Rail News statement.

The purpose of the survey and HR&A work is "to maximize the economic development and job-generation value of The Union Depot project," including to:

help inform a vision for what kind of marketplace The Union Depot should become, and over what period of time;
demonstrate your interest in seeing The Union Depot succeed as an economic development driver and jobs-generator for the city and region;
help identify what kinds of tenant spaces might be made available in the building, along with corresponding infrastructure needs; and
put businesses on a list to attend an open house for potential tenants of the building.

A six-page pamphlet gives more information about the $150 million project, which is set to be completed in early 2013 and is expected to draw 1 million transit riders by 2014. The pamphlet includes a floor plan showing the 56,000 square feet of tenant space and 38,000 square feet of "civic halls" for retail kiosks.

The pamphlet also offers a market overview for Lowertown and Downtown St. Paul.

Sources: Daniel Fuchs, HR&A Advisors; Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority
Writer: Jeremy Stratton
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