BUSINESS Mayoral priorities ; Minneapolis Mayor-elect R.T.

Rybak says his administration's policies will reflect the belief that equal access to technology is just as important to the Twin Cities economy as techbusiness development. Star-Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities Mpls.-St. Paul Sherri Cruz; Staff Writer 31 December 2001 For the technology companies lining up to bend new Mayor R.T. Rybak 's ear about tax breaks, incentives, subsidies - forget about it. Incubators? No way. Technology business parks? Not going to happen. But if you want to talk about the digital divide, high-tech training and education and community technology resources, you might get both ears. Rybak, who recently wrapped up his technology-business consulting days, says that access to high-speed Internet and technology training - for everyone - is vital for economic growth in Minneapolis. "I'm more likely to put public resources into a state-of-the-art technology center at our library than create a business park," he said. "My highest priority is to create a level playing field." But don't think Rybak is uninterested in technology businesses or naive about the economic benefits of a high-tech industry. Until September, he was writing business plans for high-tech start-ups. He also managed the Channel 4000 Web site of WCCO-TV Channel 4 and was vice president of Internet Broadcasting Systems, a Mendota

Heights company that makes Web sites for TV stations. From a personal standpoint, Rybak intends to use the latest technologies so that he can spend as little time as possible in his City Hall office. He plans to stay in touch while out and about via his Handspring Visor with flip-out keyboard; he'll also use his BlackBerry, an email collecting device. Although he never wrote software, Rybak considers himself techsavvy and believes Minneapolis has the potential to be a "technology hothouse." The region didn't catch the dot-com wave, he said, but with its strong medical-device sector, it is prepared for the next technology revolution: the melding of technology and medicine. "I think we're ideally situated for that," Rybak said. Excited about BICI Mark Paller, a founding board member for the Biomedical Innovation and Commercialization Initiative (BICI), is happy to see a mayor who is knowledgeable about the industry. "Being generally supportive is a step in the right direction," he said. BICI is one of the few tangible results of last year's Economic Summit, which concluded by sponsoring a white paper that recommended initiatives to foster high-tech job growth. Officials had become concerned that Minnesota, once a high-technology leader, had fallen by the wayside in high-tech job growth.

The state granted $10 million to BICI to help form companies from research efforts at the University of Minnesota or from institutions that receive state research funding, such as the Mayo Clinic. BICI got the grant contingent on its raising an additional $30 million in private funding, which it says it will complete by mid-year. "I'm excited about that," Rybak said, adding that he likes the idea because it doesn't hinge on a specific location. One of his challenges will be overcoming the technology investment community's notion that tech start-ups need to be located on the coasts. Minneapolis also has the problem of keeping tech companies from moving to a suburban office park in Eden Prairie or Eagan. There are plenty of options in the city that aren't that expensive, he said. Promotion and training Rybak believes that part of his role in supporting technology development here will be promoting the city as a technology hub. Another piece will be developing the work force through training and education initiatives. Rybak points to the Community Technology Consortium as a prime example of what communities can do in these areas. The organization is made up of 14 nonprofits that give technology training to low-income youth and minorities who have few if any technical skills. Rybak also has talked to University of Minnesota President Mark Yudof about creating jobs and has offered his high-tech experience

to Gov. Jesse Ventura to help him sell the state's positive attributes. Although affordable housing will be Rybak 's top focus this year, expect him to work on high-tech development. That will start with the restructuring of the city's economic development entities, including the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, he said. Rybak insists the need to develop the high-tech industry is more pressing than ever. That's because some of the city's major corporations, such as Honeywell and Norwest, are not Minnesota companies anymore. "This state has an urgent need to grow the next employers." But he stands firm in his philosophy of providing the best tools for technology development rather than writing a check that will benefit just a few businesses. "There are a lot of mistakes government can make by writing a check," Rybak said, a lesson he learned as director of development for the Downtown Council. Business doesn't grow just because a building is built, he said. He also laughs at the idea of creating a technology park. "The real incubators are at the corner coffee shop."

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