Poised for the future: Ritchie sings state's praises on second day of Worthington Bio Conference
WORTHINGTON — When Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie attended the World’s Fair back in 1963, he’d witnessed the future of technology — the ability to combine audio and video over the phone line.
He put that technology to use on Friday, when an early April snowstorm kept him from appearing in person at Worthington’s 10th annual Bio Conference. Ritchie addressed the late morning gathering via Skype to bring a positive message of biobusiness in Minnesota through the decades.
“It seems like some of these new tools like Skype are part of the present, but they will also be part of our future,” Ritchie said. “It’s a good omen today.”
As Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Ritchie’s role is to help bring business and innovation to the North Star State. Progress in business development has steadily grown during his tenure in office, with approximately 16,000 new businesses starting up in the state annually, ranging from farm-based businesses to educational institutions and everything in between.
At the heart of that business growth is bio-based business — something Ritchie said is “somewhat in our DNA, even from the very founding of Minnesota as a state.”
When our forefathers came to America, beautiful posters were displayed at Ellis Island, luring them to Minnesota because of its “deep, rich topsoils and, some would say, our ideal climate,” Ritchie said. Well, the climate “might have been a bit of an over-promise,” he added as those gathered chuckled about the roughly 8-inch snowfall they woke up to Friday morning.
Ritchie said even the weather has been used to the advantage of business creation in Minnesota, from capturing both wind and solar energy.
With a nod to farmer-owned cooperatives, agribusiness and food production and processing, Ritchie said Minnesotans have a long history of finding ways to work together.
“We have built bio-based businesses since the beginning, but we’ve also been aware that we need to stay innovative … and on the cutting edge of technology,” he shared.
New innovations like 3D printing and advanced manufacturing are unfolding around the world, but they have a 20-year history in Minnesota, Ritchie detailed.
“We can take some comfort that others are thinking about these things and can learn from (us),” he added.
That doesn’t mean Minnesotans can sit idly by. Ritchie said today is an opportunity to think of all of the challenges as opportunities. In Greater Minnesota, for example, the population is getting older. Many communities struggle to bring young people back into the fold, and to encourage them to stay in rural Minnesota.
While Ritchie highlighted Worthington as a community that has found success in keeping some of its young people, it will remain a struggle.
“We have to work very hard … to bring their ideas back to Nobles County,” he said.
Amenities such as good schools and good hospitals help. Worthington’s hosting of the national windsurfing championships “every few years” also helps when promoting what the community has to offer.
“You can add those special extra things and it makes it possible to deepen that opportunity to keep and attract those younger leaders,” Ritchie said. “Those are important to the future of Nobles County and to the bio-based industry.”
Statewide, Minnesota has more Fortune 500 companies and “outpaces other states” in the creation of new business, Ritchie said. Young people are needed to ensure future growth in business development, but also to deliver the new innovations in a bio-based economy.
From what he’s seen already, Ritchie said he has a lot of optimism about “where we will find that new energy going into the future.”
Luring the World’s Fair
As Ritchie looks to step down from his post as Secretary of State at the end of this year, he’s not abandoning his ideals for continued growth in Minnesota. His efforts will shift slightly as he takes a more active role in a project to bring the World’s Fair to Minnesota in 2023.
“The U.S. used to be the most common place to host the World’s Fair,” Ritchie said. “We used to be the place where the world came to see the most innovative products and ideas.”
Thus far, Minnesota is the only location that has vocalized interest in hosting the event in 2023. Major cities including San Francisco, Calif., and Houston, Texas, are campaigning to host the World’s Fair in 2030 and 2035, Ritchie said.
The World’s Fair — the next one is slated for Milan, Italy in 2015 — provides an opportunity for a country, or state, to showcase all they have to offer. Ritchie said the event has the potential to draw 10 million to 15 million people to Minnesota between May and August 2023.
“We want to invite people to come to Minnesota to meet our people, see our way of doing things and see our spirit,” Ritchie said.
A large organizing committee has already been established in Minnesota to plan the World Fair. Ritchie said their next step is to complete a feasibility study, which will be submitted in June or July.
“That triggers a two-year period for the bid,” he said, adding that a decision is expected to be made around Thanksgiving 2016. Ritchie urged anyone interested in helping plan the World’s Fair for 2023 to contact him at the Secretary of State’s office.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.