Detroit should look to Minneapolis

By Lou Glazer

Metropolitan Minneapolis is the Great Lakes' most prosperous region, with per capita income more than $8,000 higher than Metro Detroit's and more than $10,000 higher than than that of metro Grand Rapids.

In Michigan Future’s new report –– Regional Collaboration Matters, How Metro Minneapolis has forged one of the wealthiest and most livable metropolitan areas in the United States –– we do a deep dive into the choices metro Minneapolis has made over the last 40 years that have transformed it from a troubled patchwork of communities to rankings at or near the top among the nation’s large metro areas in a variety of livability measures, including per capita income, proportion of adults who work, education attainment, transit, quality of government services, and amenities such as parks and bike trails.

Metropolitan Minneapolis is the Great Lakes most prosperous region, with per capita income more than $8,000 higher than metro Detroit and more than $10,000 higher than metro Grand Rapids, Glazer writes.

A decades-long focus on public investment in education, transit, parks, cultural amenities and environmental protection are key ingredients in producing vibrant core cities and strong surrounding suburbs. Welcoming to all –– including immigrants and the LGBTQ community –– is another key component of the metro Minneapolis economic prosperity strategy.

Regional collaboration is on steroids in the Twin Cities. The seven-county Minneapolis metro area has been providing key governmental services, including wastewater treatment and transit, regionally for decades through what experts say is a unique entity called the Metropolitan Council. And tax-base-sharing requires nearly 200 local entities to share a portion of property tax dollars generated by industrial and commercial growth in the metro area.

What may be the most striking difference between metro Minneapolis and Michigan’s regions is the role business leadership has played in making this public investment driven regional agenda happen. Most, if not all, major metropolitan areas have business organizations that promote the economic well-being of their regions. But the Itasca Project serving Minnesota’s Twin Cities is different from just about any such organization in the country.

This group of more than 60 corporate chief executive officers and community leaders spends little time on traditional business concerns, such as tax rates and government regulations.  Itasca –– launched in 2003 –– decided it wasn't enough to focus on economic issues, but rather socioeconomic issues that affect everyone. It has had an emphasis from its founding on working to close racial and economic disparities which it believes is the most important issue threatening the metro area's economic future. Itasca has a core belief that the region won't be successful long-term unless everyone benefits from the economy.  Most of its work has focused on talent development and improving the region’s transportation infrastructure.

Rip Rapson, then the president of the McKnight Foundation (now the president of the Kresge Foundation in Troy), was a key convener of business leaders that led to the Itasca Project. He recalls that from its inception the CEOs determined that “the building blocks of a healthy, vibrant civic life were core to their businesses.” Their initial priority list: Creating a regional transit plan and a funding mechanism; developing a funding model for early childhood development; addressing health disparities; and improving the patent transfer process between the university systems and the private sector.

Today the Itasca CEOs are focused on closing employment gaps between whites and people of color and helping its members develop more diverse, inclusive workforces.

Sure seems like the kind of agenda that business leaders here should be pushing first and foremost, if the goal––as it should be–– is for metro Detroit and metro Grand Rapids to be like metro Minneapolis: one of the wealthiest and most livable metropolitan areas in the United States.

You can find the entire report at

Lou Glazer is president of Michigan Future, Inc.