Civic beat: Mayor Rybak,Google chairman hold forum on small business

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December 19, 2011
By: Sarah Mckenzie and Nick Halter
Sarah Mckenzie and Nick Halter
Mayor R.T. Rybak held a roundtable discussion with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and local small business owners Nov. 30 at CoCo Minneapolis — the co-working space on the former Grain Exchange trading floor.

Schmidt offered his take on the city’s efforts to nurture its startup community and encourage entrepreneurship in new technologies among immigrant communities. He praised Rybak’s role in bringing CoCo to the city and noted that cities need to support environments with a “coolness” factor, “coffee” and “connectivity” to encourage innovation and creativity.

The Google executive spoke at the University of Minnesota before the CoCo event and noted that it would be a great spot for another CoCo location.

Dunn Bros President Kim Plahn, Brand Ink owner Nick Lowrey and Tom Johnson, president of A. Johnson & Sons Florists, also participated in the roundtable and talked about how Google products, such as Analytics and Enterprise, have helped them grow their businesses. CoCo co-founders Don Ball and Kyle Coolbroth also participated in the discussion, reflecting on how they’ve worked to get the word out about the new co-working space.

Rybak said he’d like to see startups at CoCo grow to the point that they might take an entire floor in the Grain Exchange, but remain connected to the community that helped them get off the ground.

He also asked Schmidt about strategies for encouraging minorities and new immigrants to pursue careers in technology. The Google leader responded by saying that a college education with an emphasis on math and science is key.

“If you can do calculus, you can do anything,” he said.

Park Board approves contract for Parade Park music festival

First Avenue will hold an outdoor music festival at Parade Park on the weekend of July 21–22.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on Dec. 7 approved a five-year contract with the music venue so that it can hold a two-day festival.

Under the proposed  contract, the Park Board will get $2 from every ticket sold in 2012 plus 15 percent of gross beverage and food sales. First Avenue will progressively have to pay more to the Park Board for admissions each year, and by 2016 the Park Board will get $3.25 per head.

Dayna Frank, First Avenue’s executive vice president, said in late November that the club hasn’t decided if the festival will be Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday.

Parade Park is just west of Downtown, north of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and south of the Dunwoody College of Technology.

Fire Department’s overtime use raising questions

The city of Minneapolis’s budget committee in late-November began a series of meetings to grill Fire Chief Alex Jackson over questionable use of sick time in the Fire Department.

At the committee’s request, Jackson provided data showing that, on average in 2011, about 3.5 Fire Department employees called in sick each day from February through April. From June through August, the number increased to 5.5 employees calling in sick each day.

The data also showed that fire employees have called in sick 275 times on Saturdays in 2011, compared to 144 times on Tuesdays.

Through mid-October, the Fire Department’s overtime expenses had reached $820,000, a pace that would total about $1 million for 2011. About $450,000 has been spent replacing workers who called in sick, according to Jackson’s numbers.

The Ways and Means/Budget Committee as of early December was awaiting more numbers from Jackson.

Reach Nick Halter at