–Ben Kwan, Attorney

The usual suspects did it again Tuesday.  My Minnesota friends who, like me, tend to indulge in a bit too much Minnesota-centric navel gazing took high interest to a Minneapolis Star Tribune column that posed an interesting question: “Does Minnesota’s region have an identity crisis?”  My Facebook feed lit up with links to Kim Ode’s column, which previews an event happening tonight at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis titled, “Midwest? The Past, Present, and Future of Minnesota’s Identity.”

The headline to the Star Tribune column alone makes me chuckle.  We (Minnesotans, ever-polite), fearful of excluding anyone, pose the question with the entire region in mind, not just Minnesota proper.

The gist of the column and the discussion happening tonight at the Walker Art Center is this: should Minnesota really be lumped in with the entirety of the Midwest when it comes to “concerns about geographic legitimacy, cultural identity and economic vitality?”  Ode asks, “How can we sound more cool?”

Legal recruiters (any recruiters, really) have an almost self-imposed tough sell when they’re trying to lure top legal talent to Minneapolis from the coasts.  The “how cold?” question must come up all the time.  Never mind that it gets dang cold in New York, too.

So, the column and perhaps tonight’s panel at the Walker ask, why not own “the North” as our distinct identity?  Forget the rest of the Midwest — let Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, etc., fight for Midwestern dominance, we’ll be the capital of the North.

This makes business sense more than it is about mere pride, Ode’s column suggests:

Leading the talk is Richard Florida, a business professor at the University of Toronto and urban theorist who founded a think tank, the Creative Class Group. Florida contends that the most dynamic regions have urban centers that attract a creative class of technology workers, artists, entrepreneurs and others who foster an environment that attracts more creatives, which attracts investment, which fuels business.

A Twin Cities-based region could boast a high concentration of R&D-oriented companies, an educated populace, high voter turnout, a spirit of volunteerism, active residents.

I’ve always wondered why those who market Minnesota on a regular basis don’t try and capitalize on the spirit of this discussion.  One factor is clearly the aversion to winter.  Winter is only cool if you like outdoor sports, the prevailing narrative suggests.  Perhaps we need to get over that and consider all the amazing cultural, culinary, and social activities that go on here in Minneapolis 12 months a year, not just the seven or eight months that make it into all the photos.  In other words, couldn’t we take a winter photo that doesn’t depict evergreen tree or frozen lake?

Explore Minnesota, the state’s effective marketer-in-chief, is running a campaign called “#OnlyInMN” right now.  My issue with the campaign and all of the Instagram photos that pop up when you search that hashtag, for example, is that the things we’re seeing don’t just happen “only in Minnesota.”  They could be a lot of places in the Midwest — absent a recognizable landmark like the Spoonbridge and Cherry, the shots could be taken in Michigan.  So the promise of “Only in Minnesota” rings just a bit hollow sometimes.  Speaking of Michigan, I’ve always been a huge fan of their long-running tourism campaign, “Pure Michigan.”  Pure Michigan captures a mood or a spirit with its branding or advertising, and nothing about its promise can be duplicated anywhere else, the messaging suggests.  They achieve that without telling us it “only” happens in Michigan.

Anyway — that’s all for today.  We’ll be back to navel-gazing about our Minnesota identities sometime soon here on DuetsBlog.  We’re proud of it.