Minnesota’s new economic development lead under governor Tim Walz is in a hurry to push the State’s corporate welfare agenda onto the tech sector.
Hours after Steve Grove was named Commissioner at the Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED) last Friday, the Star Tribune published a coordinated opinion piece authored by him.
In it, he talks about how Minnesota’s technology sector needs an “urgent reboot” even a “miracle” under a broad state-sponsored publicly financed spending plan.
The 1,500+ word appeal begins with some nostalgia from our bygone days of Control Data – the supercomputing firm that was big here post-WW2 yet didn’t have enough “innovation” to make it through the 80’s in one piece.
Other references include Honeywell, which has all but left Minnesota by now, and the infamous Gopher Protocol. The latter was a promising early-stage computer networking technology developed here that successfully managed to live up to its name by staying underground and ultimately earning its place as one the biggest missed opportunities of Minnesota’s tech history.
But hindsight is 20/20 and no-one is an island; without question these examples are part of the industry’s historical fabric and they have contributed in some incalculable ways to the foundation for modern Minnesota tech to prosper as it does so today.
“If Minnesota is going to compete on the global stage in the 21st century, we need to reboot the “Minnesota Miracle” for everyone in today’s technology economy.” – Steve Grove.
In technology, a reboot effectively means to shut down an operating system and restart it from scratch. This typically occurs when something is broken and in need of repair, or perhaps an upgraded version is in order.
However “reboot” is meant to be interpreted in his context, the mere usage does suggest that whatever is happening here and now in terms of growth and trajectory is just not quite right. The subtext “if” further implies that Minnesota is not already competing globally in this 21st century, let alone nationally.
Beyond a reboot, he continues, what Minnesota needs now is a “miracle”. One that’s delivered at government discretion and financed by all the taxpayer’s who have next to no control over which privately-owned corporations will benefit – and conversely – which ones do not.
His calls for increasing business subsidies directly into Minnesota’s tech sector arrived merely 24 hours after it was ruled in court that the people of Minnesota do not even have a legal right to know what their own government is scheming in cahoots with “public-private” partners who operate in the shadows.
The essay is surprisingly short on relevant industry facts, aside from the often cited but never actually verified DEED claim that Minnesota tech will experience demand upwards of ~75k new tech jobs in the coming decade. Instead, his case relies on some emotional rear-view stories of “innovation” coupled with a reference to anonymous “complaints” with an undertone of inequality – which is exactly the nature of business and technology. By design:
Whether we choose to accept it or not, there are rules of engagement that reward some and punish others in an open marketplace. Look no further than Control Data, Honeywell, and Gophernet for some examples of just how unforgiving and ever-evolving this industry inherently is.
The over-arching premise that Minnesota’s technology industry urgently needs some ‘miraculous reboot’ is worth questioning first-and-foremost, and Grove is now able to answer why? to all the people as the public servant he chose to become.
Everyone knows that there’s always room for improvement. Everywhere in life and all the time. That is an incredibly obvious and easy thing to say, and really all he’s saying here, is that things can be better. Yes and to what logical extension, under what terms, and for what trade-offs are the real questions we ask must ourselves before considering what, if any, wholesale changes are to be made to this thriving private industry.
Those who effectively make technology understand immediately how to think about changes and can appreciate such broad claims made by ‘the business side’ that X isn’t working and Y should be better. Okay, how so? Where are lines drawn and why? Fortunately, in the world of business, you can always trust that users and customers are best suited to answer these questions.
So to think that any change should be top-down politically driven and publicly funded vs. bottom-up and organically financed by private industry itself is misguided insofar as what’s actually working here right now: letting the market decide winners and losers as it does so fluidly every day.
Just ask the founders, entrepreneurs, and CEOs who live and breath it on a regular basis across some 1,500+ tech companies statewide. Not just a few, but most, for they know better than anyone how and why the business of technology works.
The good news is that as it stands today: Minnesota’s technology industry is the best it’s been in a decade, punches well above its weight, and is only growing in scope. Most importantly, it’s all happening with natural forces being led by entrepreneurs, CEOs, and thousands employees of the private tech sector in that’s at risk under any government sponsored corporate welfare agenda.
If the state wants to contribute something to private industry with the goal adding and improving, that’s great.
Focus resources on the things that can make Minnesota be the best place to live outside of work, as the majority of those operating in this industry can exercise their choice to live anywhere in the world.
That, or simply let people keep more fruits of their labor instead of taxing all and giving it back to the few.