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In the Twin Cities, Diversity & Economic Growth Go Hand in Hand

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Although the rest of the country may be slow to recognize it, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are no cultural backwater. Changing demographics and economic prosperity are putting the region in the same league as the nation’s top cultural centers. Two area companies—lender Wells Fargo and law firm Faegre Baker Daniels—are among those leading the charge to ensure the area’s long-term prosperity by making diversity a priority in everything they do. The results are encouraging.

Minnesota is already home to 20 Fortune 500 companies—more per capita than any other state—and Minneapolis/St. Paul is the fastest-growing metro area in the Midwest. Boasting a healthy job market, lower-than-average unemployment and high wage growth, the Twin Cities’ growth is unlikely to slow down. The Metropolitan Council forecasts that by 2040, employment will grow 37 percent and the region’s gross metro product will reach a staggering $400 billion. “That would represent 1.5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product,” according to Twin Cities Business magazine. “A significant portion considering the Twin Cities is home to less than 1 percent of the national population.”

Such growth is shifting the demographics of a predominantly white state. Between 2000 and 2010, Minnesota’s Latino, Black and Asian population grew by 55 percent and is projected to more than double over the next 30 years. And the vast majority of this non-white population will be concentrated in the Twin Cities. If the area is to succeed, it will need to transform this economic and cultural wealth into an inclusive community that continues to thrive, says Lisa Tabor, executive director of the St. Paul–based CultureBrokers Foundation. “In an intercultural city, residents and organizations creatively harness their diversity and use it as a tool to build a more prosperous future for all,” Tabor writes in a recent editorial. Corporations are banking on the idea that the key to success lies in maintaining a diverse workforce, championing the causes of underrepresented groups and reaching out to traditionally underserved communities.

A Diverse Workforce

As one of the 100 largest law firms in the United States and the largest in Minnesota, Minneapolis-based Faegre Baker Daniels sees diversity as a partnership with the wider community. According to their diversity policy, “Diversity and inclusion is not something that any one individual—or firm—achieves on their own.” With collaboration in mind, Faegre was a founding member of Diversity in Practice, an association of 28 law firms and 12 corporate legal departments that work to “attract, recruit, advance and retain attorneys of color in the Twin Cities legal community.” The association offers professional development, networking opportunities and summer clerkships for Black, Latino and Asian first-year law students. The firm has hired 28 summer associates as a result of these clerkships; after the summer, more than 90 percent of students receive offers to return to the firm for a second year.

These initiatives are helping to recruit bright law students from diverse backgrounds to the city. “We’re not New York; we’re not D.C. We don’t have the critical mass in population,” says Kristine McKinney, director of Diversity & Inclusion at Faegre Baker Daniels. “But we’ve created that through Diversity in Practice.” And the effort is working: 36 percent of the firm’s partners, attorneys and associates are women, and nearly 11 percent are Latino, Black, Native Hawaiian, Asian, American Indian, openly LGBT or a person with a disability.

Wells Fargo also prides itself on maintaining a diverse workforce. Nationally, 59 percent of the bank’s employees are women and 36 percent are Asian, Black, Latino, American Indian or Native Hawaiian. Employees will often recruit from within their communities, says David Kvamme, Minnesota Great Lakes regional president at Wells Fargo. The bank also makes promotion and advancement a priority for employees from different cultural backgrounds and has invested in programs to ensure their success. Since 2009, Wells Fargo has contracted with English Proficiency Systems, a woman-owned business.

Efforts are also being made to promote and recognize the achievements of women. In 2012, Faegre was one of 50 U.S. law firms to receive Gold Standard Certification by the Women in Law Empowerment Forum in recognition of the firm’s number of women in top leadership roles. “Women participate in every level of leadership at the firm—as members of the firm’s executive committee, management board, practice group leaders, office managers and chief executives,” says McKinney. Faegre ensures retention through groups like the Women’s Forum for Achievement, which promotes networking, leadership development and ties to professional associations.

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Advocacy & Outreach

Faegre’s volunteer and pro bono efforts demonstrate a commitment to advocacy on behalf of traditionally underrepresented groups. In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center asked a team of Faegre lawyers to partner in an investigation into anti-gay policies and harassment in Minnesota’s largest school district. A settlement was reached in 2012 that granted new protections for LGBT students and provided a national blueprint for future advocacy. “The decision to go forward was consistent with the firm’s longstanding pro bono priorities, which include public-policy advocacy to effect systemic change, and protection of individual civil rights,” says McKinney.

In the same spirit, Wells Fargo believes that a successful company recognizes the needs of all members of the population. “We are working to bring a sharper focus to finding solutions to the social, economic and environmental issues faced in the communities we serve, and our diversity and inclusion efforts are an important component of this work,” says Jon Campbell, executive vice president of Wells Fargo’s Social Responsibility Group. Banking services like bilingual phone operators, a multi-language Internet site and the first-ever Hmong-language ATMs provide special outreach to the Twin Cities’ diverse demographic. “In some of our stores here in the Twin Cities metro area, there are five or more languages spoken,” says Kvamme, “which helps us ensure that customers feel welcome.”

Community Giving

Employees also play an important role in corporate giving. The bank has contributed at least $10 million annually to Minnesota nonprofit organizations, local schools and community events for the past six years. Fifty Twin Cities–based employees volunteer to sit on the bank’s Community Funding Council for three-year terms. They evaluate grant applications from nonprofit organizations centered on local issues including English-language learning programs for job seekers, violence-prevention programs for at-risk teens and kindergarten-readiness programs for children of low-income working families.

Faegre promotes a robust community-service ethic including a volunteer mentorship program with Lincoln International High School and the International Education Center, which serve the cities’ large immigrant and refugee populations. But these efforts are not handouts, says McKinney. “We believe that diversity makes us a better place to work. As a result of the firm’s community-service programs, firm employees often have a heightened awareness of community needs, an increased opportunity to interact with diverse groups and individuals and a greater understanding of how they can be more involved in our community.”

Wells Fargo has been involved in community programs as a partner in the Midtown Greenway project, which revitalizes low-income and traditionally underserved parts of the city. “The success of diverse neighborhoods and business owners contributes to the vitality and vibrancy of the entire community,” says Kvamme. It’s also creating a marketplace for minority- and women-owned enterprises. Located in the Midtown Exchange Building, the Midtown Global Market currently hosts 64 MWBEs.

As the regional economy continues to grow and demographics begin to shift, the Twin Cities have the opportunity to become a model in multiculturalism and urban renewal. It’s clear that area companies like Wells Fargo and Faegre Baker Daniels are committed to making sure that no group is left behind. They believe that inclusion makes not only their companies but the whole community stronger. “Make no mistake, interculturalism takes hard work and clear vision,” writes Tabor. “But the return on that investment of time and labor is profound.”

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