Resources & Reports

The Itasca Project tackles issues that can positively impact the economic competitiveness, expand prosperity for all, and quality of life in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region. Our engagement is dynamic; we evaluate our activities and assess our commitments annually. We initiate activity only when we believe that Itasca Project participation can make a difference and at least one business executive has committed to leading the charge. Every effort we undertake is built on a shared fact base and involves regional collaboration.

Below is an overview of select engagements by year since Itasca Project’s inception in 2004.

Itasca Project Reports

The Itasca Project seeks to increase economic competitiveness of the region and expand prosperity for all, and has released a report about the importance of healthy early childhood development as one of the greatest opportunities to promote inclusive economic growth. Extensive neuroscience research shows early experiences (e.g., nutrition, healthcare, caregiving, environmental safety) prenatal to age 3 build the foundation, or neural connections, for all future learning, behavior, and health — 80% of the brain develops by age 3. In Minnesota, 75% of babies are born to mothers who work, meaning employers of all sizes have a pivotal role to play in influencing early experiences for optimal brain development. Each year 34,000 babies are born in the seven-county metro area; one third of those babies are at risk for unhealthy development.

Too often employers are overlooked as a stakeholder in supporting families and our youngest children. Employers are one of many important channels to raise awareness about the critical importance of early childhood development and to implement family-friendly practices to support it. Through the First 1000 Days work, the Itasca Project is joining Little Moments Count, a Minnesota-based statewide movement to help parents, caregivers, and the community understand the importance of talking, playing, reading, and singing with infants and toddlers given the impact on brain development. Little Moments Count is a cross-sector collaborative of organizations led by HealthPartners and Minnesota Public Radio. The Itasca Project will lead the movement’s employer-focused engagement efforts. More details of the First 1000 Days report can be found below:

Full Report (pdf, 18 pages)
Executive Summary (pdf, 2 pages)
Childcare Report
Infographic (pdf, 1 page)
Additional Resources

There is not enough housing being built in the Twin Cities and existing housing is too expensive for many residents. This lack of housing affordability puts at risk the vitality and prosperity of the region and will make existing racial and economic gaps worse, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the need to act more urgent. Leaders of corporations, government, nonprofits and all organizations must work together now to turn the tide before we become as unaffordable as coastal cities. In 2019, the Itasca Project assembled a task force to build on a handful of the ~30 recommendations made in the More Places to Call Home, a statewide task force that concluded in 2018. The task force identified three focus areas for action: clarity through data, piloting a housing-forward benefits package, and innovating in how to increase housing production. More details can be found below.

This Housing Innovation Report outlines the Itasca Project Housing Innovation Working Group’s recommendations for how corporate, government, nonprofit and other leaders can use innovative practices to increase production and lower the cost of housing in the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) region.


Full Report (pdf, 22 pages)
Executive Summary (pdf, 2 pages)
Infographic (pdf, 1 page)

Housing Innovation

Full Report
Executive Summary

Over the past decade, the Twin Cities has entered a new landscape of opportunity by playing host to large, high profile sporting events. Events – not only sporting events but also arts, music, and cultural events – provide opportunities to generate economic benefit, raise our region’s profile, and strengthen our civic fabric. This prompted the Itasca Project to ask “What could be the potential impact from developing a sustainable events and sports economy for our region, and state, and what would be required to realize that opportunity?” To answer that question, an Events and Sports task team was formed. See the report on their findings here.

Itasca participants worked with several partners to create the MSP Regional Indicators Dashboard, a set of shared, objective metrics that track the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region’s overall success on critical economic and quality of life measures. This dashboard provides a clear view of our current competitive position, as well as trend information that illuminates what the future may hold. It provides accountability for making progress on these critical metrics. Ultimately, it will lead to better coordination and collaboration across shared regional priorities. Having such a dashboard is a global best practice, and Itasca participants take pride in co-creating a data-driven conversation about our region’s competitiveness.

This initiative was built on Itasca Project’s previous work in socioeconomic disparities. It brought together private, public and nonprofit sector leaders to identify specific, near-term steps employers can take to close the employment and labor force participation gaps between whites and people of color in the region. The task force focused on defining the regional “business case” for addressing disparities, catalyzing broad regional leadership commitment, and elevating best practices. (See report here.) In addition, Itasca partnered with Wilder Foundation to convene a cross-sector cohort of CEOs to focus on the role of leadership in advancing diversity and inclusion in their organizations.

Since its launch, Wilder facilitated five cohorts of CEOs / executive leaders and eventually expanded to include a cohort for HR leaders. In 2021, the program moved from Wilder to the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce where it continues to engage CEOs and other senior leaders as the DEI Collaborative. (Learn more.)   

The Itasca Project launched the Workforce Alignment task force in response to a need to better match academic offerings with current and future workforces. The gap was identified in the Higher Education Partnerships for Prosperity white paper. (See report here.) The Workforce Alignment Team steering committee consisted of 20+ members across the private sector, education sector, public sector and philanthropy. The task force started its work to close the talent gap by conducting a diagnostic of more than 600 stakeholders within the Minnesota talent ecosystem to understand what decisions they were making and to identify the information that could help them make more-informed decisions. The research highlighted the need for more current, granular, easy-to-use labor market information. The team conducted pilots with higher education institutions and workforce centers in Minnesota to test the impact of bringing real-time data to curriculum decision-makers.  (See Close the Gap video here.)

Based on the results of the pilots across more than 25 institutions in 2014, the Itasca Project partnered with several public and private institutions to co-fund and co-launch Real Time Talent, a new entity focused on creating more informed, market-oriented decisions throughout the Minnesota workforce and education ecosystem. Real Time Talent helps ensure the Minnesota economy has the talent it needs, and helps Minnesotans prepare for and find careers they want. Real Time Talent ( is leading the roll-out of real-time data and other workforce alignment tools across 110 higher education, workforce and employer association institutions across Minnesota.

The Itasca Project launched a task force to identify strategies for higher education in Minnesota to drive long-term, sustainable economic growth and prosperity. The work was led by a team of 12 leaders from business, nonprofit and higher education institutions. An advisory group of 40 business and community leaders provided input and guidance. With the help of this group, the task force completed a Higher Ed Strategy for Minnesota, then launched three initiatives: Workforce Alignment, to ensure we have the skilled workers we need to meet the economic needs of the future (see above); Collaboration, to optimize higher education’s assets and efficiencies system-wide; and Research & Innovation, to establish partnerships that foster and strengthen an ecosystem of research and innovation. (Read Higher Education Partnerships for Prosperity here.)

Today, Real Time Talent is carrying this work forward. (See Aligning Education and Training with Employers’ Workforce Needs above.) In addition, a group of leaders from the University of Minnesota, Minnesota State, Minnesota High Tech Association, University of St. Thomas and Medical Alley regularly collaborate to encourage students to pursue careers and experiential learning in research and innovation through programs such as MHTA’s SciTechsperience.

This report addresses 3 questions:

  1. A built-out regional transit system would require substantial investment.  What would be the return on that investment?
  2. Investments can be made more or less quickly. Would accelerating build out change the return on investment?
  3. Many communities with developing transit systems experience more growth near transit stations.  Would such expectations for growth change the return on investment?

The report finds a positive ROI, with a return of $6.6 – $10.1 billion (internal rate of return 7.8-14.8%), and that accelerating development and concentrating development around stations are two ways to increase that return, up to $16.5 billion.

Itasca Project launched a task force to assess the region’s job growth position and to develop strategies to promote the retention, creation and attraction of quality jobs in the Twin Cities region. (Read Charting a New Course: Restoring Job Growth in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Region here.)

Two new efforts began as a result of this work:

GREATER MSP: This regional economic development partnership was created as a separate organization to drive a coordinated strategy for the region that includes retaining and attracting more quality jobs. As a public-private partnership funded by member investments, GREATER MSP is a value-added resource to all economic development groups in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region. Since its inception, GREATER MSP has directly helped to generate more than 20,000 jobs and $2.1 billion in capital investment in the region.

Business Bridge: The Itasca Job Growth Task Force initiated the “Business Bridge” initiative to more effectively facilitate purchasing connections between the region’s small, growing companies and its larger, more established organizations. Business Bridge participants exceeded their goal by increasing procurement expenditures an additional $1 billion from Minnesota-and western Wisconsin-based companies and continue to recruit new purchasing organizations to join the movement.

The Itasca Project joined with the Minnesota Business Partnership to examine the best practices of world-class education systems, benchmark Minnesota against those systems, and identify initiatives that the business community could support to elevate the state’s school systems to world class. (Read the report here.)

The Itasca Project led 30 employers to reduce employee reliance on pay-day lenders by increasing employee savings, banking and financial literacy. Employers designed and tailored solutions to their employees and shared best practices such as auto-enrolling in retirement accounts. Participating employers all saw increased savings rates by their employees.

This effort sought to measure disparities and other important regional characteristics. In conjunction with regional partners, it helped catalyze the launch of the Twin Cities Compass (, and was the basis for later work in the form of the current Regional Indicators dashboard.

This effort raised regional awareness of the socioeconomic disparities that exist in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region. A Brookings Institution report, Mind the Gap, revealed that the region had one of the widest disparities in the country. This fact-based approach to better understanding the region enabled the Itasca Project to view the initiatives it would undertake in the future through the lens of socioeconomic disparities. The Mind the Gap report catalyzed “Close the Gap” initiatives that included a speakers’ bureau, employer toolkit, a public broadcast documentary, and more. As a result, several large private- and public-sector organizations adopted gap-closing strategies in their strategic plans and employment practices. (Read the report here.)

The Itasca Project provided Minnesota’s governor the services of a consulting team from McKinsey & Company to examine the current early childhood education programs, develop a common fact base, and identify opportunities for improvement. The outcomes of the study formed the basis for the governor’s legislative agenda. A key outcome was the creation of the Parent Aware rating system, which ranks daycares based on quality and ties funding to quality standards. Itasca Project also played a brokering role among a group of the critical players in early childhood to identify and address gaps and overlaps and to develop a common change agenda. (Read the report here.)

Itasca Project participants assisted the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce with expanding the reach and impact of its “Grow MN” effort, enabling more companies to expand in Minnesota.

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Using a team of loaned executives, Itasca worked with the University of Minnesota to create a “front door” to the U of M that facilitated stronger cooperation with the business community, improved the process for commercializing intellectual property, and strengthened the University as a magnet for talent.

Itasca Project Resources

The state of Minnesota consistently reports lower unemployment than the national average, yet not all Minnesotans have benefited from the economic recovery coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Long-standing racial wealth gaps, among other areas of inequality magnified during the pandemic, may widen as automation increases throughout workplaces and the future of work evolves. How can leaders across the region meet this moment and accelerate a more equitable economic future for all? Learn how local leaders across the private, public, and social sectors can collaborate to ensure all residents have the chance to thrive.

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Working with a number of partners, Itasca create the MSP Regional Indicators Dashboard, a set of shared, objective metrics to track the Greater MSP region’s overall success on critical measures. This dashboard will give the region a clearer view of our current competitive position as well as trend information to illuminate what the future may hold. It will provide accountability for making progress on these critical metrics, and ultimately, lead to better coordination and collaboration across shared regional priorities. Having such a dashboard is a global best practice, and we take pride in participating in a data-driven conversation about our region’s competitiveness.

View Video

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GREATER MSP Recovery Hub

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The creation of ConnextMSP was the result of the Itasca Project’s identification of the role employers can play in improving career and college readiness of high school students and young adults. ConnextMSP was built to ensure that young professionals of color in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region are recruited, hired, and supported by local employers as they launch their careers. This is a critical lever for advancing inclusive economic growth and building a 21st century workforce in our region.

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The Return on Investment of the Regional Transit System, East Metro Strong and Minneapolis Regional Chamber, 2019

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Four Itasca participants sat on the Governor’s Housing Task Force, which met over the course of 2018, and issued a report with recommendations to improve housing affordability across the state. See their recommendations here. In 2019, Itasca is convening a task force to identify ways to advance a handful of specific recommendations, around the themes of inform, innovate, and engage. (link to

“Doing Well by Doing Good: A Guide for Leaders” McKinsey Quarterly

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The Itasca Project developed a framework to articulate why a healthy entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem is important for regional competitiveness and measured how the Twin Cities compared to their peer regions. Findings contributed to the GREATER MSP’s powering Forge North – an active coalition of entrepreneursinvestorsbusiness leaders, and other problem solvers united to make Minneapolis-Saint Paul the best place to start and scale ventures. 

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The Itasca Job Growth Task Force initiated the “Business Bridge” concept to more effectively facilitate purchasing connections between the region’s small and growing companies to larger, more established organizations. Small business leaders told the Task Force that a significant challenge they face is gaining access to large companies. Securing a large company as a client can have a tremendous impact on the trajectory of a company by establishing a stable revenue stream and credibility for investors and other clients. One of Minnesota’s greatest assets is its substantial number of leading companies. However, the Task Force also heard that despite interest in finding innovative and differentiated solutions from companies based in this market, sourcing departments at large companies face significant challenges in sorting through potential suppliers to find the most innovative, responsive suppliers capable of meeting the needs of leading companies.

In 2011 and 2012, the Itasca Project piloted Supplier Showcases featuring emerging local companies as a first step to bring both sides together in a way that helps make the right connections with the right individuals. Founding members of Business Bridge have tested and confirmed a set of principles for operationalizing Business Bridge in any procurement organization. Currently, the effort is focused on increasing the number of large companies in the state that incorporate Business Bridge principles into their procurement practices.

Business Bridge Principles

  1. Establish leadership commitment to buying local to support economic development
  2. Share the case for buying local within procurement and with business partners the organizations
  3. Operationalize Business Bridge principles, beginning with indirect spend:
    1. Assign responsibility to staff for identifying local vendors
    2. Edit sourcing or supplier diversity processes to include local vendor identification
    3. Ensure staff have tools to identify local vendors that can meet company needs
    4. Measure RFP inclusion and / or $ spend with MN / W. WI vendors
    5. Set goals for RFP inclusion and / or $ spend with MN / W. WI vendors
  4.  Track purchasing results and share progress with Business Bridge partners

Project Leadership

The concept for a “Business Bridge” between our region’s large and small companies was developed by the Itasca Project Job Growth Task Force, led by:

* Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Chairman, Carlson Companies
* Ken Powell, Chairman and CEO, General Mills
* Chris O’Connell, Executive Vice President and Group President, Medtronic
* Michael Gorman, Managing Director, Split Rock Partners

The Founding Members have provided guidance and oversight of the Business Bridge initiative. The Founding Members include senior supply chain executives from leading private sector companies based in Minneapolis-St Paul.

Learn more.