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Imagine a Minnesota World’s Fair

October 02, 2013 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

The Minnesota Vikings weren’t the only winners this past week in London when our local football team played Pittsburgh’s before 83,591 visitors and sports fans at Wembley Stadium.

Real economic benefits came into play for hoteliers, pub keepers, department stores owners and employees, cabbies, double-decker bus drivers and everyone else crossing paths and pocketbooks with visitors from around the UK, Europe, and North America.

Such an economic impact is one – but only one – of the reasons Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and an assortment of other local business and government leaders are readying a bid to host a Minnesota World’s Fair in 2023.

Granted, Ritchie said, a World’s Fair 10 years down the road wouldn’t serve as an economic stimulus for the current sluggish economy affecting Minnesota and America. But past experiences with World Fairs held around the world show it would be “an enormous stimulus whenever it was held,” he said.

Showcasing Minnesota’s world-class companies and educational institutions to global visitors and watchers from afar would be among benefits, he said. And bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world to learn of Minnesota’s business and cultural strengths, and its resources, would have a “marketing” benefit that would extend for years and decades later.

Knowing of Minnesotans who seized the opportunity to take in a Vikings football game and visit London tourist sites this past week, the potential economic benefits for Minnesota hosting a global event are significant.

In a summary of potential benefits sent to interested parties by Ritchie and John Hottinger, of Hottinger & Gillette Consulting in the Twin Cities and Washington, D.C., promoters estimated that from 10 million to 15 million people would visit Minnesota during a six-month Expo, as World’s Fairs are widely called in other countries.

This, they calculate, would cause an inflow of from $10 billion to $15 billion in tourism dollars. They also predicted “tens of thousands” of jobs being created during construction and in operational positions during the fair. That estimate doesn’t include jobs created for the economic development area that would be left in place after the fair closed.

Additional economic development benefits would include mixed-use housing, office complexes, cultural centers and “incubation opportunities” that would grow out from fair facilities and an “iconic structure” built to symbolize the fair. Seattle’s Space Needle and the Eiffel Tower in Paris are among the best examples of the latter.

The idea for a Minnesota World’s Fair has been incubating for a while. Hottinger and Steve Heckler, in an article for MinnPost in August a year ago, contrasted last year’s one million visitors who attended the Summer Olympics in London with the seven million visitors who made it to remote Yeosu, South Korea, for its three-month World’s Fair.

Ritchie encourages people to check out a public television look back at EXPO 74, a successful World’s Fair hosted by a small city (Spokane, Wash.). “One of the most important things we have learned from the Spokane folks is that the bid process itself is very important in how our region will be viewed by others – no matter if we eventually are selected or not,” Ritchie told fair backers in a recent memo.

Ritchie, who is not seeking a third term as secretary of state next year, is the chair of the Minnesota World’s Fair group. Vice President Walter Mondale, former Gov. Arne Carlson and Carlson Cos. CEO Marilyn Carlson Nelson are honorary co-chairs.

The group has opened an office in the restored Union Depot in downtown St. Paul. It has planning contacts underway with the Bureau of International Exposition that overseas the world’s fairs, and it is in contact with California and Texas groups that are exploring prospects for 2025/2030 Expos.

Milan, Italy has been selected for a six-month Expo in 2015 and Astana, Kazakhstan is designated for a three-month World’s Fair in 2017. Yekaterinbug, Russia; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Izmir, Turkey and Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), are preparing bids for 2020.

In their article for MinnPost, Hottinger and Hecker noted that the Yeosu World’s Fair had people on the ground with Minnesota ties that would help Minnesotans plan a bid. They included Thomas Underwood, a Macalester College graduate who was the resident deputy commissioner of the USA Pavilion in Yeuso; and USA student ambassadors at the exhibit that included Emilie Wardrip, a St. Cloud State University graduate, and two University of Minnesota students, Erin Haney and Yvonne May.

From a purely economic development perspective, however, a Niccolò Machiavelli quote used to inspire the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair comes to mind: “Make No Small Plans; They Have Not the Power to Stir Men’s Souls.” Come to think of it, that motto even inspired a local book appropriately focused on economic development.

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  • Mark Ritchie says:

    October 6, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Great piece! If readers are looking for more information or are interested in regular updates please email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Cathy Hietala says:

    October 7, 2013 at 8:02 am

    I would love to see a World’s Fair here in Minnesota!!