Two Twin Cities business groups — The Itasca Project and Greater MSP — are merging

The volunteer-run business and civic group Itasca Project is merging into Greater MSP, the regional economic development partnership of 300 businesses and organizations.

“As we began to collaborate more often, we began to think about whether joining forces could increase the impact of each entity and better serve the entire community,” said Lynn Casey, chair of the Itasca Project and one of its founders.

The larger MSP actually came out of a Project Itasca task force that saw the need for a business retention and recruitment tool that could work across often competing cities and counties.

Itasca began in 2003 when a group of business leaders decided a more nuanced approach to community issues was needed. The group has addressed various topics such as education and infrastructure needs, diversity initiatives and economic disparities.

Meanwhile, Greater MSP has evolved from a high-profile recruiting entity that packages business development deals to more of a data research group that partners with localities on workforce development and business expansion initiatives.

After several months of discussion, a joint task force recommended integration.

With the merger, Project Itasca will be better able to scale and accelerate its work to develop civic leaders and address long-term issues affecting the region’s economic competitiveness and quality of life, said Casey, retired chairman of the firm marketing and advertising Padilla.

The Itasca Project name will continue and its work will expand thanks to “new connections with more leaders and organizations, as well as operational support available within Greater MSP,” she said.

Itasca was conceived to operate “behind the scenes,” said Tim Welsh, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant. who is now an executive at US Bancorp.

In fact, Itasca volunteers have long used McKinsey’s free space for meetings and relied on dedicated McKinsey staff for research as they worked to find consensus on challenges among business, government and community stakeholders. The idea was to study the issues and solutions comprehensively before bringing them up for public debate and consideration, including by local governments and the Minnesota Legislature.

Itasca has focused on the need to equitably maximize the fastest-growing ranks of people of color, including immigrants, knowing that Minnesota’s growth is coming through those populations.

“The work Itasca does to support our regional economy complements Greater MSP’s existing capabilities and is consistent with our partnership’s mission, which is to accelerate regional competitiveness and inclusive economic growth,” said Peter Frosch, CEO of Greater MSP.

Recent collaborations between the two groups include the Regional Economic Indicators Panel, which tracks progress in economic growth against peer regions. Another is Business Bridge, which helps connect large companies with smaller Minnesota firms that could be suppliers. Itasca says the project has produced $10 billion in annual purchases.

ConnextMSP is another collaborative effort, helping young professionals of color in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region connects with local employers.

Casey said Itasca will soon release a second report on the workforce housing shortage, including innovations and solutions. Frosch noted that the Greater MSP early in its 11-year history did not consider housing. It has now become a key ingredient in economic development.

“Itasca is not a normal organization in that it’s volunteer-run and virtual,” Casey said. “We’re talking about bringing the best of Itasca … and harnessing the necessary [research] and the infrastructure offered by the Greater PMM.”

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