Minneapolis Skyline

Itasca Project Works to Strengthen the Community

Thursday, April 18, 2019

For cities to continue to thrive, they need leaders who are civically engaged and helping tackle some of the biggest issues its community may face.

For Scott Peterson, ’83 MA-IR and other leaders in the Twin Cities, the Itasca Project helps address regional economic vitality, quality of life, and prosperity for all.

The project is a civic-led organization with no physical office, staff, or standing agenda. The group brings cross-sector leaders together to address challenges the region faces and to further growth and development in the Twin Cities.

“I think we have a special place here,” Peterson says. “Whether it’s for my kids or my grandkids, we want to continue to have the Twin Cities as one of the best places in the world for both families and companies and to have people choose to visit here and live here. If we don’t, as leaders, invest our own time and energy, we put that way of life and prosperity at risk.”

Peterson, the executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Schwan Food Company, joined the group about seven years ago. A civic-minded person who loves philanthropy, Peterson found the group rewarding from the moment he began.

He immediately jumped in and co-led a committee on workforce development and how to make sure the state is developing the talent it needs for the future. That idea spun into Real Time Talent, for which Peterson serves as chair.

Real Time Talent is a public-private collaborative of the Center for Workforce Solutions that strives to increase workforce alignment in Minnesota. The group introduces tools and innovation to address labor force needs and support education and workforce systems.

“That’s the type of work that’s so important to me,” he says. “With projects like that, we can maintain and improve the quality of life here in Minnesota.”

"The more we can attract these big events, the more we expose the nation and the world to the Twin Cities. Then, people are more likely to come live here, work here, and visit here.”

– Scott Peterson

Those types of projects are the norm for Itasca. The group tackles projects as they arise and as a result of events and issues affecting the community.

For instance, with the rising number of high-profile sporting events happening in the Twin Cities, such as the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the Frozen Four, and the Ryder Cup, the organization is looking at how to be more strategic and intentional about how they can market the region. The hope is to coordinate resources on a more sustainable basis so the region can continue to attract these types of major events.

“We have a great story to tell,” he says. “The more we can attract these big events, the more we expose the nation and the world to the Twin Cities. Then, people are more likely to come live here, work here, and visit here.”

While there are many economic development organizations across the country, few, if any, have been able to replicate the success and collaboration of Itasca. Peterson agrees with Itasca leaders who assert that the orientation to collaborate in this region is our own “special sauce” that other regions are trying to replicate.

“None of us do this for attention or publicity,” Peterson says. “We do this because we believe in the region, we believe in the people, and we believe part of being a leader is to give back and invest in our community.”