Convention Offers a Chance to Shine

Posted August 29, 2008 at 11:21am

At national conventions, parties go hand in hand with choosing a presidential candidate. And those soirees are usually underwritten by corporate America.

Minnesota is rife with large, homegrown companies — from UnitedHealth Group, the country’s 25th-largest corporation, to chemical company Ecolab, the 438th-biggest company in 2008, according to Fortune’s list of the top 500 U.S. companies.

In fact, the Gopher State boasts 19 corporations on the list — all of which have played a decidedly understated role in past national party conventions.

This year will be different.

Many Minnesota firms, such as Medtronic (217th on the Fortune 500, with $12.3 billion in revenue), will be opening their doors to showcase their products.

For Medtronic, this convention is an entirely new experience. In the past, the Minneapolis-based company had sent only a couple of lobbyists to the conventions, but with the Republicans coming to Minneapolis/St. Paul, the medical technology company decided to re-evaluate their efforts.

“The fact that it is here in the Twin Cities, which is our headquarters, that added a new dimension and dynamic to our participation,” said Rob Clark, a spokesman for Medtronic.

In addition to giving to the host committees of both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, Medtronic decided to do events focused on its core business practices in both cities.

“We wanted to make sure Medtronic was part of any discussion about health care,” Clark said.

Medtronic will also be hosting health care roundtables in Denver and Minneapolis and Medtronic is opening its corporate headquarters for a Monday evening party.

Expecting 1,500 people, the company invited delegates from states in which they have a presence, including California, Arizona, Tennessee, Indiana and Minnesota.

Target Corp. (31st on the Fortune 500 list, with $63.4 billion in revenue) also hasn’t been a big convention sponsor in the past. But this year, it has signed on to underwrite the Creative Coalition’s gala in Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The quadrennial gala on Sept. 3 in the Twin Cities is dedicated to promoting the arts and will bring out a star-studded delegation including former “Wings” actor Tim Daly.

For Target, it was important to do similar activities in Denver and Minneapolis, said Amy Reilly, a spokeswoman for the Minneapolis-based retailer. In addition to the larger events, the company will be doing smaller private events daily.

Another well-known Minnesota-based company, Xcel Energy (260th on the Fortune 500, with $10 billion in revenues), isn’t just playing host — its name is on the arena that is home to the Republican National Convention. It is also featuring a host of energy technologies, according to company spokesman Steve Roalstad.

Using its downtown Minneapolis headquarters, the company is showcasing biomass, solar, wind and energy conservation displays, culminating in a free Thursday afternoon concert.

The company is also featuring a wind turbine and a trailer that displays a smart grid, which applies information technology to the electric power grid for more efficient distribution.

The trailer, which came from Denver, “was designed to educate the public about what the smart grid will mean to them,” Roalstad said.

Not all companies wanted to host individual parties. Instead, several contributed to the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council’s AgNite in order to showcase Minnesota’s commitment to agriculture.

In addition to giving to the GOP host committee, Golden Valley, Minn.-based General Mills (214th in the Fortune 500, with $12.4 billion in revenue) and agriculture cooperative Cenex Harvest States (145th in the Fortune 500, $17.2 billion in revenue) decided to co-sponsor AgNite.

“We are one of the five lead sponsors of that event, so that’s really where we put our resources,” Lani Jordan of CHS said.

The evening at the Depot in downtown Minneapolis will feature booths with sponsors’ products on display and three mini-seminars on monitors with educational messages.

But it won’t be all education — the rock band Styx is also playing.

“The money we have raised from our sponsors is being put back into the event,” said Daryn McBeth, executive director of the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council.