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May 7, 2002 // UPDATED 1:19 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Sam W. Grabarski
Sam W. Grabarski

Downtown's 10 biggest employers have surprising impact on how we live

The debate over the Kensington Runestone could have been easily solved if people had just turned it over in 1898 to see a help wanted advertisement from George Draper Dayton. George moved to Minnesota from New York in 1883. By 1902 he had founded The Dayton Company in Minneapolis, and employment opportunities have been pretty steady over the past 100 years.

Target Corporation is Downtown's largest employer in 2002, with 9,100 employees. Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota is a close second with 8,090. There are over 800 Minnesota cities with populations that are smaller than either of those workforces. In fact, there are over 700 Minnesota cities with populations smaller than each of the top ten workforces of companies within downtown in 2002.

What does having such large employers mean to Downtown? Before turning to the more obvious things -- like full lunch tables for every fast-food vendor on the skyway system -- let's start with philanthropy.

Larger employers often have matching programs to double the impact of charitable gifts made by their employee, causing employees to become major forces in giving locally. An interesting example is the General Mills-Pillsbury merger. Only one of the new partners previously matched employee gifts, but matched all employee gifts going forward. The biggest beneficiary was the United Way, which suddenly found more than 1,000 charitable gifts doubled.

Larger employers often have special programs to support their workers' priorities, and to increase company loyalty. Employee-formed volunteer groups and interest clubs often receive financial support, delivering people and cash to groups ranging from Downtown's People Serving People to Habitat for Humanity chapters. New service vendors are spread around Downtown offering subscription-only emergency day care to children of parents fortunate enough to work for enlightened larger companies.

The Downtown Council has been studying local employees' impact for several years. Downtown's workers are especially loyal to and proud of the Central Business District. Six out of ten say that Downtown is superior to other places where they have worked. Those who are most positive about Downtown are between 25 and 44 years old, with higher incomes and more active spending profiles than other shoppers.

Several major executives of Top Ten employers are new Downtown residents, which could have interesting implications. They'll find Downtown conveniently located and will be more likely to argue against the periodic proposals to relocate divisions to the suburbs. They'll have a different appreciation for transit and taxis than their suburban counterparts. These executives may accelerate the pace of office market growth over the years ahead.

This year's Top Ten Employers list has a few surprises. Due to cut-backs and relocations, Qwest drops from the list for the first time in recent memory. General Mills joins the list for the first time due to the merger of long-time employees at Downtown's Cereal Grain Division and the workforce at Pillsbury Center. RBC Dain Rauscher's employment base, spread among five buildings, is also new to the list.

When Minneapolis resident Jeanette Piccard became the first woman to pilot a hot-air balloon to the stratosphere in 1934, she probably couldn't see much of her small adopted city. Minneapolis civic leaders had boasted two decades earlier that we would have a million residents by year 2000. Instead, we're having trouble pushing through the stratospheric limits of 400,000 people. But when we do, the new population will probably all be working for Target Corporation. The employment opportunities have been terrific there for the past hundred years.

Sam W. Grabarski is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, a group of business leaders.