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Pedalopolis takes to the streets with crowd-sourced rides

This week the Twin Cities BIKEFUN!'s Pedalopolis extravaganza will take to the streets. Pedalopolis is an annual "crowd-sourced festival of social bike rides" with dozens of user-generated events and themed rides. The celebration kicked off at 5 p.m. yesterday with a parade between Matthews Park and Powderhorn Park, where a potluck lasted into the evening. The parade's centerpiece was the enormous Pedal Bear, a "pedal-powered polar bear" built by the locally based ARTCRANK Collective.

The opening festivities were just the tip of the iceberg. "The Pedalopolis festival is an ever expanding work in progress," writes Nickey Robare, of Twin Cities BIKEFUN! "[We're] creating a space, and the community has stepped in to fill it up." The goal is to create a series of themed rides and gatherings around Minneapolis and St. Paul. BIKEFUN! accepted ideas from members of the public until shortly before the festivities began, with "room for any type of bike ride you can imagine," says Robare. (Awesomeness is encouraged.)

Participants have clearly had fun planning this year's event. Last night, riders could choose from a 15-mile mural tour of Minneapolis or a meditation-themed ride with the DharmaCore Queer Meditation Community. At noon today, the 2DCLOUD Bicycle Distro rounds up riders who'd like to distribute free books at community centers and other locations around the Cities.

This evening, the "It’s Your Birthday Bike Ride" asks riders to pretend it's their birthday and dress accordingly. (No actual birthdays required, according to TC BIKEFUN!'s website.) For a nightcap, St. Anthony Main Theater hosts a screening of "Half The Road: The Passion, Pitfalls, and Power of Women’s Professional Cycling," a film that looks at women's love for the sport and "the pressing issues of inequality that modern-day female athletes face in male dominated sports."  

Tomorrow, history and amenities are on the agenda. A 6:30 p.m. ride hits six "overlooked parks" in St. Paul, a simultaneous jaunt visits various architectural gems in the Seward neighborhood, and a 7 p.m. "Replacements Ride" takes a tour of locales mentioned in the Twin Cities band's songs and ends with a drink at the CC Club, a favorite haunt of theirs.

On Friday, the weekend begins in style with "Tour de Breweries," which includes a stop at Town Hall Brewery and other yet-to-be-named locations. At 11 p.m., the "Secret Society of Midnight Cyclists" meets to pedal to "a location known only to the [tour] leader," according to TC BIKEFUN!'s website.

Pedalopolis's last big event will take place at 9 p.m. on Saturday, at Bedlam Lowertown in St. Paul, with a "short jorts" dance party and a performance from River City Soul. The event, like all Pedalopolis gatherings, is free and open to the public. A "Hangover Ride" and other "day-after" activities will take place on Sunday.

In addition to Pedalopolis, its showcase celebration, BIKEFUN! also administers an online biking forum that connects Twin Cities cyclists with safe, community-themed activities in all seasons. In addition to establishing it as a key mode of transport for Twin Cities residents, the organization aims to make biking fun and accessible for kids and adults of all ages.

Made's bespoke products merge client branding, sustainability

Made, based in Uptown, takes an approach to designing and manufacturing corporate gifts, apparel and novelties that encapsulates client brands and reduces the environmental impact of the manufacturing process.

Made is the brainchild of Michelle Courtright and Kristin Hollander, two "gift industry" veterans who met through mutual friends in the late 2000s. When the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, the pair decided to abandon their storefronts and join forces to create memorable corporate gifts—"beyond tchotchkes," says Courtright.

Made takes a bespoke approach to each product, usually designing items from scratch. The company started in government procurement. Through contracts with the Pentagon and FBI, Courtright and Hollander devised complex, multi-step solutions to clients' often-inscrutable requests.

"We gained a reputation for figuring stuff out," says Courtright.

Their approach also led to contracts with Twin Cities businesses like Target, as well as with The New York Times and pop culture icons like Pharrell Williams. In Made's nearly six years of operation, the company has relied exclusively on referrals and organic growth.

Another client, Minnesota Public Radio, still relies on Made to design and fulfill gift orders for its 120,000-strong membership base. Early on, when MPR needed a large order of red mugs, Made advised that red dyes manufactured in the United States were highly toxic, eventually finding a German producer that used a less-toxic vegetable base.

As a general rule, Made doesn't like to create disposable or single-use products, although they women bend this rule for such items as USAID's natural disaster relief kits. Made also structures its supply chain, where possible, to avoid redundant shipments.

But the company balances an earnest commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship with realism. "[Our client] Whole Foods knows that its customers won't want to pay $10 for a single tote bag," says Courtright. So Made finds solutions that incorporate low-impact materials without sacrificing affordability.

Although Made has Minnesota roots –and 13 local employees—its approach to manufacturing is a global endeavor. The company sources materials and components from all over Asia, but tries to acquire as many materials as possible from the United States. “The world is more interconnected than you would believe," says Courtright.

Film in the City connects at-risk youth with creative potential

Earlier this summer, more than a dozen Minneapolis-St. Paul 17-21 year olds participated in the inaugural production of Film in the City, a Minnesota State Arts Board-funded initiative that connects at-risk youth with local filmmakers and front-of-the-camera talent. The original short, “A Common Manor,” was entirely written by Film in the City’s young participants, who also made up the majority of its cast. Highlights of the filming process were included in filmmaker Jeff Stonehouse’s contribution to One Day on Earth, with the edited production to be released in October.

Film in the City is the brainchild of Rich Reeder, a 30-year veteran of the film industry. He was inspired by a tragedy: While he was producing a documentary on the White Earth Reservation, a local high school student suddenly took his own life, shattering the community (and Reeder’s crew). As a filmmaking veteran, he saw the medium’s potential to boost self-esteem and commitment in at-risk youth.

Reeder and an assistant connected with six homeless youth organizations—Ain Dah Yung, Youthlink, Avenues NE, Face to Face/SafeZone, Full Cycle and Kulture Klub Collaborative—across the Twin Cities. Beginning in February of this year, 16 participants attended 12 workshops that covered everything from art and sound design to improvisation.

Filming took place over two weeks in June, at several locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul (the Midtown Farmers’ Market and private residences in St. Paul’s Summit-University and Midway neighborhoods among them). Local arts organizations including the Guthrie Theater and HDMG Studio & Production Center lent backdrops and equipment.

“A Common Manor” wrapped on June 25. There’s still plenty of editing and marketing work to be done before its release. But the project has already paid dividends: As a direct result of their work with Film in the City, says Reeder, at least eight participants have conducted internships or mentoring sessions with “professional Twin Cities’ directors, writers, cinematographers, lighting and sound specialists, makeup and wardrobe mentors.” Two have worked with Stonehouse on a commercial film shoot in Wisconsin.

Reeder also sees Film in the City, and projects like it, as critical for character-building and professional development. “These youth have made major strides in terms of self-esteem, collaboration with other youth and adults, learning the entire film[making] process and focusing…on specific aspects of the creative arts,” he says.

Reeder and crew plan to apply for the same Minnesota State Arts Board grant next year. The hope is that first-year veterans will actively mentor second-year participants, creating an artistic legacy among at-risk youth.

More ambitiously, Film in the City may soon export its concept to other cities. “Youth organization leaders in Seattle and San Francisco have already expressed interest in the concept,” says Reeder, noting that those cities’ famous writing and visual arts workshops for homeless youth haven’t yet been complemented by filmmaking initiatives.

 

Twin Cities artist wins ArtPrize with "faux border crossing"

On June 26, for the second year in a row, five Twin Cities’ artists gathered at the Walker Art Center’s ArtPrize Pitch Night to share their ideas for a highly visible installation at Grand Rapids, Michigan’s annual ArtPrize extravaganza – and compete for a $5,000 prize. Each had five minutes to pitch to five jurors.

The winner, Bjorn Sparrman, will construct a “faux border crossing” on the Gillett Bridge, a heavily trafficked pedestrian bridge in downtown Grand Rapids. The installation will stand for the duration of the festival, from September 24 to October 12. Along with work from thousands of other participating artists, Sparrman’s project will contend for one of two $200,000 grand prizes.

The project, which will straddle the dividing line between the east and west sides of Grand Rapids, is a tongue-in-cheek take on an international border crossing. According to Sparrman’s pitch, it will feature “border guards,” a fake customs booth with awning, and signs indicating the “political” barrier.

“[The] jurors were impressed with Bjorn’s awareness of the bridge as a passage,” says Jehra Patrick, one of the five Pitch Night jurors, in an interview with ArtPrize. “We were interested in his ability to create a point of engagement and an obstacle, making people stop and consider the work.”

The four Walker Pitch Night runners-up have impressive CVs: Aaron Dysart is a City Collaboratory Fellow with the City of St. Paul; Alison Hiltner is a prominent Minneapolis-based installation artist; Bill Mullaney is a performance artist and one half of the popular performance duo Fire Drill; and Aaron Squadroni recently served as Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Artist-in-Residence.

The jury included Melinda Childs, Director of Artist Services at Forecast Public Art; John Hock, founder of Franconia Sculpture Park; Mia Lopez, a current Walker Art Center fellow; Jehra Patrick, program director for mnartists.org; and Piotr Szyhalski, professor of media arts at Minneapolis College of Art & Design.

ArtPrize is in its sixth year, but last year’s Walker event – put on in collaboration with Delta Air Lines, mnartists.org, and Open Systems Technologies – was the first organized opportunity for non-Michigan artists to earn funding for more ambitious projects. Pitch Night has since expanded to Cincinnati.

ArtPrize itself is wildly popular with artists. Billed as “a radically open, independently organized international art competition,” ArtPrize turns “three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids [into] an open playing field where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what is art and why it matters.”

Anyone can participate and any space within the designated district can host installations. In addition to the $400,000 in grand prizes, participants can win eight category prizes of $20,000 each. This year’s event will feature more than 1,500 individual entries.

 

ArtsLab report highlights capacity building, resiliency

ArtsMidwest, an Uptown-based arts organization that forms partnerships with artists and local art organizations throughout the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region, has released a major report to publicize the achievements of its ArtsLab subsidiary. Entitled “Capacity Building and Resilience: What Participants Learned Through ArtsLab,” the exhaustive report outlines the experience of eight organizations, including five from the Twin Cities.

According to Anne Romens, ArtsMidwest’s External Relations Manager, the report “offers key takeaways for nonprofit organizations seeking to build their resiliency and for grantmakers supporting the arts and culture sector.” The report itself is intended for “organizations looking to strengthen their adaptability, funders interested in the leadership qualities that support careful fiscal oversight, and…colleagues in other capacity building programs, both within and beyond the arts community.”

ArtsLab partners can enroll in the Peer Learning Community, an intensive, two-year “training and technical assistance program that brings diverse arts leaders together in a supportive, collaborative environment.” Components of the Peer Learning include mentorship assignments, monthly webinars, quarterly retreats, and training sessions that focus on financial management, strategic planning, community engagement and impact evaluation.

The five participating Twin Cities organizations had incisive feedback for ArtsLab—and the program’s future participants. During its first year working with ArtsLab, All My Relations Arts was evicted from its space at the Great Neighborhoods! Development Corporation, forcing the organization to hastily partner with the Native American Community Development Institute and seek funding assistance from ArtsLab. Over the subsequent two years, All My Relations found a new gallery and performance space that now anchors Franklin Avenue’s ascendant American Indian Cultural Corridor.

Mizna, a St. Paul organization that sponsors the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, nearly went bust when its former director resigned to pursue her writing career. ArtsLab helped the organization secure much-needed funding to carry it through. But Rabi’h Nahas, Mizna’s board director at the time, is even more appreciative of the guidance and experience of ArtsLab’s staff and educators.

In addition to the report and accompanying case studies, ArtsLab released a complementary video series on ArtsMidwest’s YouTube channel, including contributions from the studied organizations.

ArtsLab was founded in 1999 with grants from six funding partners, including the Bush Foundation. According to its website, the initiative aims to “support the acquisition of new skills, tools, and habits [that enable] navigation in a constantly changing environment” through “a highly participatory process.” It’s permanently staffed by Program Director Sharon Rodning Bash, Program Manager Angela Keeton, and Program Assistant Emily Anderson, and supported by a national group of educators and arts leaders.

 

NECC manufactures custom reference cables for musicians stateside and globally

Local musicians who value realistic, earthy sound quality have a local source for their equipment: Northeast Minneapolis-based Northeast Cable Company (NECC).

Founded in 2012, the company designs and handcrafts reference cables for instruments, microphones and amplifiers. Its wares can be used in live and studio settings. According to Jake Gilbertson, NECC’s operations manager and an engineer by training, the cables are designed for musicians who need “unique, durable, and flexible” cables that won’t wear out with regular use.

Unlike many larger companies, NECC focuses exclusively on these cables – it doesn’t manufacture accessories or other equipment. NECC takes a bespoke approach to its products, creating each order to customer specifications and executing a thorough inspection—“by a real human”—before shipment. Additionally, the XLR (microphone) cable is made to avoid tangling and the patch cable made rigid for stability.

Reliability is a key objective. Larger manufacturers take a quantity over quality approach to cable manufacturing, forcing musicians to go through cables faster and make needless replacement purchases. By outlasting their inferior counterparts, NECC’s cables significantly reduce a major expense for prolific musicians.

Even patch cables, which are notorious throughout the industry for their tendency to wear out, get this treatment. Gilbertson and his colleagues took the “time to figure out what would make these cables last forever,” according to NECC’s website, and developed “the most durable and reliable patch cable on the market.” Despite a higher manufacturing cost, musicians reap long-term benefits because they don’t have to buy replacements as frequently.

Sound quality is also essential. NECC’s cables are designed to minimize feedback and interference, creating a studio-quality listening experience even in sub-optimal settings. All of NECC’s products include features that make this possible, including double-Reussen shielding (which clarifies sound by allowing the cable to lie flat on the stage or floor) and a proprietary ULTRA-FLEX cord jacket that minimizes crimping when the cable is moved, stretched or wound back on itself. The cables’ contacts are gold, a superior material for the purpose.

NECC cables also aim to create a sound that’s as natural and “clean” as can be. “All of the properties of sound are tied up in each cable’s copper strands,” says Gilbertson. “By manipulating the individual strands, you can change how your instrument performs.” Whereas many cable companies sell sound- and even genre-specific cables—rock, acoustic, and so on—NECC’s products can be used by musicians of all stripes.  

And they are. Though still small, NECC already has a nascent, global dealer network, with outposts in Bend, Oregon; New York City; Brantford, Ontario; and even Japan. Up-and-coming musicians from Minnesota, Tennessee and California are regular customers. Twin Cities residents can find its stock cables at Twin Town Guitar in Uptown, American Guitar Boutique in Plymouth, and Lavonne Music in Savage, or order custom cables directly through the company’s website.

Crux Collaborative and the power of rebranding

Crux Collaborative, a user-experience consulting firm based in the southwest Minneapolis, is dramatically changing its approach to business, staff and clients as part of a bold rebranding effort.

During the past year, the firm formerly known as Eaton Golden has adopted a flatter management model, a more collaborative approach to internal problem-solving, and a culture of “trust and even friendship” between clients and employees, says co-principal Mahtab Rezai. She calls the experience overwhelmingly positive, with new clients and new staffers energized—and surprised—by Crux’s highly personal, yet results-driven, approach to its work.

Recently, says Rezai, an increasingly tech-savvy population and a growing volume of digital points of customer-vendor contact created a “sea change” in user experience best practices, from a proscriptive, top-down approach to a more user-friendly, even nurturing one.

“Almost everything we do now is complex and interrelated,” she says, including how we access and communicate information. Crux specializes in improving user experiences for “complex, data-driven, transactional experiences,” Rezai says, which “aren’t optional and haven’t historically provided a lot of choice to the user.”

Ultimately, the goal is to render these experiences—like using a health exchange, executing online financial transactions and accessing employee benefits—more “humane,” making it easier and more natural for people to complete essential, boring tasks in the digital space.

Rebranding has helped Eaton Golden/Crux Collaborative process and take advantage of this shift. Sadly, a tragedy accelerated the process.

In early 2011, principals Emily Eaton and John Golden lost their young son to cancer. Rezai, a former colleague of Golden’s who was already in talks to take a new role with the company, immediately took over day-to-day management of the firm while the parents grieved. Eaton eventually sold her interest to Rezai and left the company completely to write a book about coping with grief.

Rezai still has her operational role. Golden and Rezai are now equal partners. But Crux is no longer “two leads plus a support staff,” says Rezai. Nearly every important decision, including the company’s new name, arises through consultations with rank-and-file staffers. In a larger company, this might produce friction, but Crux is small enough to function as a single team.

So far, the experience has been transformative. Even experienced employees had never seen a rebrand go so smoothly. Morale has spiked. Clients are happy, too: Crux just posted the strongest first quarter in its 10-year history. Last year, with the transition in full swing, the company made Minnesota Business Magazine’s “Top 100 Businesses to Work For” list, a major achievement.

Will Crux’s new approach to business translate into a bigger workforce and a national client pool? For now, Rezai is cautious about such plans.

“Growth is not our objective,” she says. “Excellence is.”

The company has eight full-timers, with room for just a handful more. And since it doesn’t have a business development division or send out RFPs—“We’ve found that they’re a waste of our time”—the firm relies on word of mouth to attract new clients. Crux is picky about accepting new work, essentially “prequalifying” clients before pitching or consulting with them.
“The ability to judiciously say ‘no’ has taught us how to say ‘yes’ when it’s clearly right,” says Rezai.

By choice, Crux also focuses on companies in the banking/finance, medical device, health insurance and benefits administration subsectors—niches heavily represented by Twin Cities businesses. As Rezai puts it, “we stick to what we’re good at.”

 

FOCI fundraises for new mobile glassmaking workshop

FOCI Minnesota Glass Center for the Arts based in Northeast Minneapolis, the state’s only nonprofit glassworking nonprofit, has launched an ambitious crowdfunding initiative to fund the purchase of a new “mobile hot shop.”

The project aims to raise $50,000 to fund the purchase and retrofitting of a vehicle that will carry a fully functional glass studio to schools, community centers and special events around the Twin Cities. Individual donations for this “mobile teaching facility on wheels” are tax deductible and can be made through FOCI’s Go Fund Me page.

In the past, FOCI has done mobile glassworking demonstrations at the St. Cloud State Lemonade Festival and the Swedish American Institute. According to Bryan Ethier, FOCI’s board chairman, the new shop would be a closed trailer with several benches to accommodate glassworkers and an open design to accommodate crowds of spectators.

The mobile hot shop would replace a smaller, less user-friendly mobile shop that contained a single furnace and “glory hole” for reheating glass. Outside spectators had to stand around it or use seating provided by the demonstration venue.

Ethier expects the initiative to enhance FOCI's visibility and reach. The organization’s old State Fair headquarters was demolished to make room for the Heritage Square project. FOCI’s now-defunct satellite shop at the Renaissance Festival formerly anchored its outstate presence.

“The only way we can provide demonstrations now is with a mobile studio,” says Ethier. FOCI’s 120 members, who are proficient in the art of glassworking, typically monopolize the company’s main location.

The new mobile shop will also solve accessibility challenges at FOCI’s headquarters. “We’re located on the basement level of a building with a non-functioning elevator,” says Ethier, making handicapped accessibility impossible.

The organization’s location in an industrial area of Northeast isn’t convenient for visitors without cars, so the shop will facilitate demonstrations in more transit-friendly locales. Eventually, FOCI would also visit suburban and rural schools whose students can’t afford to travel to Minneapolis.  

Michael Boyd, FOCI’s artistic director, started Foci as a private studio in 2004 and converted the organization to nonprofit status in 2010. Foci now provides educational services for students and glassworking novices of all ages. It also rents space and supplies to its member artists. In addition to the mobile hot shop, FOCI plans on opening a new studio space at the State Fairgrounds’ West End Market project.

New Fusion program addresses shortage of tech workers

In less than a year, a partnership between Advance IT Minnesota and Metropolitan State University has produced Fusion, an “IT residency” program that will officially launch during the 2014-15 academic year. Fusion places students in various technology degree programs with local employers—ranging from cutting-edge startups to Fortune 500 firms—that need flexible, entry-level IT labor. The program has already accepted applications for the coming year’s roster and is in the process of vetting applicants.

Unlike a traditional internship, which typically runs a single academic semester, each participant’s residency lasts 18 to 24 months—roughly tracking their last two years of college. Students are paid for their time, typically less than 20 hours per week, with projects assigned by their employers and paychecks issued by their school.

Fusion currently has 40 open spots, but Bruce Lindberg, executive director of Advance IT Minnesota, hopes to grow the program significantly in time for the 2015-16 academic year by expanding the program’s enrollment at Metro State and creating an identical residency program at Mankato State. By next year, enrollment could increase twofold, with further growth possible.

“If employer demand and participation grow beyond the capacity of those two partners,” says Lindberg, “we will look to expand by involving other academic partners” around the Twin Cities and outstate areas.

With a projected deficit of nearly 10,000 tech workers in the state by 2020, Fusion aims to accelerate the development of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s high-tech workforce while making it easier—and less risky— for employers and prospective employees to find one another. Currently, the rapidly growing and changing industry suffers from “skill mismatch,” where employers struggle to find candidates who can keep pace with changing job requirements and competencies.

“Many graduates face the frustrating reality of employers asking new grads for two to three years of experience…which they usually don't have,” says John Fairbanks, a third-year Metro State student who applied to the program this spring. “[T]hrough the Fusion program, I will graduate with a degree and have substantial experience to back it…allowing me to enter the job market more quickly and with real-world experience to solve real-world problems.”

The idea for Fusion developed out of conversations between Lindberg and Marty Hebig, Maverick Software Consulting’s founder and president, in January 2013. Lindberg and Hebig, whose company helps firms avoid offshoring by hiring low-cost, U.S.-based student IT workers for special projects and ongoing work, helped recruit other local business leaders to the cause. He also helped them build a compelling case for an IT residency program. In January 2014, Metro State approved the program and began publicizing it to students.

Employers and managers who wish to learn more about Fusion can attend an information session, hosted by Advance IT Minnesota, at MCTC’s campus on June 17 between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. RSVP through Bruce Lindberg at Bruce.Lindberg@metrostate.edu or 612-659-7228.


 

Artist-designed mini golf, now in St. Paul

As part of the redevelopment at the Schmidt Brewery site, Blue Ox Mini Golf is leveraging a $350,000 grant from ArtPlace America and the proceeds from an ongoing GiveMN campaign to fund its new course on West 7th Street. The course sits amid the site’s 260 residential units and multiple commercial spaces, all of which are part of a $120 million project that’s wrapping up early this summer.

The course “will add art each year in the form of new holes, amenities and supplemental programming,” according to the Blue Ox website. All will be designed and installed by local artists. The course’s permanent features are also artist-designed, creating “multiple points of entry for everyone from committed art-ophiles to the random passerby on the way to the bus stop.”

Blue Ox is taking a page from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which has constructed several art- and architecture-focused mini golf courses in the past 10 years. Like its St. Paul counterpart, the Walker’s Artist-Designed Mini Golf regularly incorporates new artist-commissioned holes, examples of which include a foosball area replete with garden gnomes and a “gopher hole vortex.”

Although Artist-Designed Mini Golf is only open during the warm season—May 22 through September 1 this year—its most popular holes enjoy permanent status amid the newcomers. Blue Ox, which will shut down each fall and reopen in late spring, will also recycle perennially popular holes.

The similarities between Blue Ox and the Walker’s course aren’t accidental: Blue Ox’s Christi Atkinson previously served as the Walker’s course director, and Jennifer Pennington, the initiative’s marketing director, is married to the designer of one of the Walker’s most engaging holes. The Walker’s current Sculpture Garden course’s $12 or $18 tickets (for 9 and 18 holes, respectively) include free admission to the museum. This has been a winning formula, with long waits for tee times on weekends and nice evenings.

The St. Paul course presents an additional design challenge thanks to strict historic preservation guidelines to which future artists will be beholden. Each hole has to incorporate themes or design elements that harken back to the brewery that once occupied the site.

Blue Ox doesn’t have a world-class art museum to keep golf-averse family members occupied, although the as-yet-unnamed restaurant tenant of the site’s soon-to-be-renovated keg house could keep visitors fed and watered.

But Blue Ox does double the number of artist-commissioned mini golf holes in the Twin Cities, providing visibility and recognition for installation artists in St. Paul. And as the entertainment centerpiece of the Schmidt redevelopment, the course promises to draw families and local residents who previously sped by the disused site on their way to downtown St. Paul or the airport.

 

Mobile markets bring fresh produce to low-income neighborhoods

A recent city-ordinance change has paved the way for mobile grocery stores. Now the Wilder Foundation’s Twin Cities Mobile Market, a repurposed Metro Transit bus that cost the foundation just over $6,000, can distribute fresh produce on St. Paul’s East Side and the North Side of Minneapolis.

Both neighborhoods are considered “food deserts” because the corner shops and independent markets that provide residents with groceries lack fresh produce and other wholesome items.

“[Low-income] people living in these neighborhoods are already at higher risk for obesity and diabetes,” explains Leah Driscoll, the Wilder Foundation program manager in charge of the project. “Living in a food desert makes these problems worse.”

Many residents of these lower-income areas also lack reliable transportation to supermarkets in adjacent city neighborhoods or suburbs, further constraining their shopping options.

The ordinance change, which requires each food truck-like mobile grocery store to stock at least 50 individual fruits and vegetables in at least seven varieties, replaces an older ordinance that had restricted mobile grocery sales to areas around senior housing complexes.

The new law permits mobile grocery stores to set up in commercial, industrial and apartment complex parking lots between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. They can’t locate within 100 feet of traditional grocery stores and farmers’ markets without explicit permission from owners or operators. They also can’t sell certain items, including tobacco products and alcohol.

In addition to the requisite variety of fresh fruit and veggies, Twin Cities Mobile Market will also stock other staples, including bread, dairy products, meat, canned goods, and other non-perishables at costs competitive to places like Cub Foods. Before selecting sites for weekly visits—“public housing high-rises, senior buildings, community centers, and churches” will get the highest priority, according to the foundation—Wilder must secure at least 50 signatures from locals interested in using the market.

Driscoll is working closely with local community leaders to ensure that “we’re actually wanted and needed in the neighborhoods that we select—we don’t just want to show up,” she says.

Twin Cities Mobile Market, which Wilder unveiled on Monday at a “sneak preview” event hosted by Icehouse, isn’t the only mobile grocery truck set to take advantage of Minneapolis’s ordinance change. Urban Ventures, a faith-based organization headquartered in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, is putting the finishing touches on a repurposed refrigerator truck that will begin making grocery sales around South Minneapolis, and eventually the North Side, later this summer. The truck, whose wares will include healthy helpings of local produce, will accept EBT and carry a nutrition specialist to help customers make healthy buying decisions.

 

MARS Lab and Google's mapping initiative for smartphones

Earlier this year, Google selected the University of Minnesota’s MARS Lab as its primary academic partner for Project Tango, a high-profile indoor mapping initiative that has been compared to Google Maps. The selection came with a $1.35 million grant and a directive to explore—and expand on—the possibilities of a prototype smartphone capable of creating 3D maps of indoor spaces. Google’s only other academic partner on the project, Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University, has a much smaller role.

According to Google, the current prototype device is a “5 inch Android phone containing highly customized hardware and software designed to track the full 3D motion of the device as you hold it while simultaneously creating a map of the environment.”

The phone can take up to 250,000 spatial measurements per second to create an intricate map of its surroundings.  While this technology isn’t yet available as an app on regular smartphones, part of MARS Lab’s charge is to create apps and APIs—mobile development platforms—that enable the app to be scaled down and included with non-specialized devices. Within a few years, some form of the technology will be available for download like any other Android app. The U of M lab will have played a central role in making that possible.

A major challenge will involve surmounting the technology’s requirement for two independent cameras. It’s unclear whether future versions will be able to work with a single smartphone camera, or whether devices that use it will need to have at least two vision sensors. A strict non-disclosure agreement, breach of which could jeopardize the lab’s funding, prevents MARS Lab director Stergios I. Roumeliotis from getting into such specifics about Project Tango.

A video released last month by the MARS Lab team shows the prototype’s capabilities. Although the current version produces a somewhat slow, abstract representation of its surroundings, future iterations will create near-lifelike interior maps. Google and MARS envision three broad areas in which 3D mapping can play a role: virtual/augmented reality video games, internal navigation in unfamiliar buildings (rendering directions in malls and corporate edifices all but obsolete), and navigation aids for the visually impaired. But innovation probably won’t stop there: In a recent interview, Roumeliotis argued that “the list of potential future applications is endless.”

In addition to Roumeliotis, two MARS Lab alums who have since taken positions with Google—Joel Hesch and Esha Nerurkar—are leading the development charge. The building blocks for the project were actually laid about a decade ago, when the MARS Lab team helped create the internal navigation system, known as VINS, for NASA’s Mars landers. A loss of NASA funding for the project proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Roumeliotis’s team found that the system worked just as well for earthbound mapping and navigation.

Indeed Brewing dramatically expands distribution

Indeed Brewing Company, Northeast Minneapolis’ biggest craft brewery by volume, is partnering with J.J. Taylor Distributing Company—also based in Northeast—to expand its distribution footprint across Minnesota. The partnership, which officially began on May 1, will see Indeed enter or expand in southern Minnesota markets like Rochester, Owatonna/Faribault and Mankato.

According to Indeed marketing director and co-founder Rachel Anderson, Indeed will be available in virtually every major Minnesota market by the end of the year.

The J.J. Taylor partnership represents the last big link in Indeed’s in-state distribution chain. Dahlheimer Distributing already sells Indeed beer in east-central Minnesota, and D & D Beer Company handles distribution for points north of St. Cloud. Indeed also self-distributes in Duluth and Hudson, Wisconsin, the only out-of-state market currently served, and has no plans to stop. According to Anderson, the company envisions a hub-and-spoke network that penetrates deep into Minnesota’s vast rural hinterland, with self-distribution representing a key strategy for ensuring coverage.

Indeed’s partnership with J.J. Taylor, and two recent expansion initiatives, are born out of necessity. Indeed has roughly doubled its production capacity during the past year, from 6,000 barrels to between 11,000 and 12,000 barrels, and it’s still not at capacity.

“We could make more,” says Anderson, “but we’re trying to grow responsibly.” The brewery just finished adding production capacity, in January, and plans to expand its capabilities again this summer, with the installation of a new fermenter.

As appetite for craft beer grows among suburban and rural drinkers, Indeed expects to utilize this spare capacity. “There’s still a lot of growth left in the state,” especially in smaller markets that are just getting their first taste of Indeed’s products, says Anderson. “We’re not yet at the point where we don’t have enough beer, but we do need to build volume in those territories.”

Indeed is currently Minnesota’s 5th or 6th biggest brewery, behind Summit, Surly, Fulton and Lift Bridge. Long-term, the company is interested in developing out-of-state distribution partnerships that could raise the company’s regional profile, but no concrete plans or timetables exist yet. For now, Indeed is focusing on filling in the gaps in its footprint and further boosting business at its already bustling taproom, which is open Thursday through Saturday and is “busy all the time,” says Anderson.

 

Corridors 2 Careers strengthens workforce development

Ramsey County’s successful Corridors 2 Careers pilot program—which connects economically disadvantaged residents of communities along the Green Line, including Frogtown, Summit-University and Cedar-Riverside, with workforce training resources and employers in the area—already has several notable successes.

According to the program’s exit report, more than 1,400 residents of Green Line neighborhoods participated in the initiative, and nearly 90 percent had no previous knowledge of workforce resources in the area. As a direct result of their participation, 65 local residents found gainful employment and an additional 47 enrolled in basic or continuing education classes.

The pilot project also encouraged local job applicants to obtain—and local employers to recognize—the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate, “a portable credential that demonstrates achievement and a certain level of workplace employability skills,” according to ACT. The public-private partnership between Ramsey County and Goodwill-Easter Seals will continue to push this certification.

Of the five-dozen employers that participated in the pilot project, more than half were unaware about local workforce development resources that connect prospective employees with willing employees in transit-served areas. At least eight hired Corridors 2 Careers participants.

Now, the project has blossomed into a larger partnership between Ramsey County Workforce Solutions, Ramsey County Workforce Investment Board and Goodwill-Easter Seals of Minnesota. At least nine workforce development organizations have already committed to support the partnership, which aims to increase the “alignment of workforce needs between the residents and employers” in the area, according to the press release announcing the partnership.

The Ramsey County Workforce Investment Board’s Alignment and Integration Committees will coordinate the activities of the participating organizations, including Goodwill-Easter Seals, which provides GED tutoring, job-specific skills training and job placement services to individuals who have been chronically unemployed, recently incarcerated, afflicted by homelessness, or who struggle with alcohol or chemical dependency.

Going forward, Corridors 2 Careers aims to connect at least 400 Green Line residents with job search assistance, and place at least 80 percent of those participants in entry-level jobs or job training programs. The goal is a “location-efficient economic development strategy” that encourages local employers to be more receptive to diverse residents’ cultural needs, refer rejected applicants to workforce development agencies, and create new, industry-specific employer clusters along the transit-dense Green Line.

With Goodwill-Easter Seals and the Ramsey County organizations acting as pillars for the initiative, local employers will be able to directly tap C2C for willing, well-trained workers, connecting unemployed residents who urgently need work and employers that require specific skill sets.

GiveMN launches enhanced fundraising system this summer

GiveMN, an online philanthropy platform launched by the Minnesota Community Foundation and based in downtown St. Paul, is partnering with Kimbia and Minneapolis-based Fast Horse to enhance its fundraising capabilities and improve the users experience. GiveMN’s new fundraising system will debut this summer, with the improved website rolling out in phases beginning later this year.

The partnership with Kimbia, announced earlier this month, comes after a rigorous RFP process that included several competing proposals. “We wanted a partner that was innovative and forward-looking,” says Dana Nelson, GiveMN’s executive director. Kimbia’s mobile-friendly technology integrates with “social media, partner websites, and personal webpages” and “enables donors to give in less than a minute,” according to its website.

GiveMN’s Fast Horse-led website redesign will build off Kimbia’s next-generation technology, with a responsive, “modern” user experience that’s consistent on big-screen desktops, tiny smartphones, and everything in between. The gradual rollout should minimize disruptions for current users, says Nelson, while encouraging newcomers to engage.

“With technology changing so rapidly, it’s hard to predict how people will access our platform in the coming years,” she explains. “We want to be out in front of that and create as many opportunities as possible for Minnesotans to engage with us.” The goal is to encourage donors to respond in real-time to “things that happen”—from unpleasant events like floods to fundraising drives for schools and churches across the Twin Cities and beyond.

“We want GiveMN to be the first place on the minds of local donors,” says Nelson, “whether they’re using their phones, tablets, desktops, or watches to give.”

With Nelson at the helm, GiveMN launched in 2009, drawing inspiration from microlending platforms like Kiva and community-focused charities like DonorsChoose. The goal was to foster closer relationships between donors and recipients, “which felt really radical at the time,” says Nelson.

GiveMN has stayed lean: It maintains its own office in Lowertown, but leverages the HR and finance assets of the Minnesota Community Foundation. GiveMN now supports a wide range of Twin Cities-based organizations, from St. Paul’s Springboard for the Arts (which uses GiveMN as its exclusive online fundraising tool) to Shir Tikvah, a Jewish Reform congregation based in Minneapolis.

The Nathan Hale School PTA in Minneapolis uses the service as well. Whereas bake sales and other commodity-driven school fundraising events can have high overhead costs, says Nelson, 95 percent of every dollar given through GiveMN goes directly to schools.

 
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