Measuring progress. Inspiring action.

April 2015

Promoting a talented, diverse workforce

Mike Langley

Minnesota Compass recently prepared an economic dashboard for the Itasca Project as part of a business case for creating opportunities for a more diverse workforce in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP) region.

GREATER MSP has the expressed mission of accelerating job growth and capital investment for the 16-county region. We asked CEO Michael Langley to provide his insights on how the region can develop and attract a diverse workforce.

Q: Why is a diverse workforce important to our economic prosperity?

Michael: A highly talented and engaged workforce has been the region’s competitive advantage. However, recent trend data show that the region could face a shortage of approximately 100,000 workers by the year 2020. This led GREATER MSP to launch a talent initiative in 2014 to attract and retain workers in order to ensure the region’s future prosperity. 

Developing, growing, and attracting a diverse group of workers is critical to that effort. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes economic sense. People of color account for 37 percent of the U.S. population and 22 percent of the region’s population. Populations of color are growing more quickly than the white population, both nationally and in the MSP region. If we are going to meet our future workforce needs, we need to attract and retain more workers, of all races.

In January 2015, McKinsey & Company released a study that said that companies with a higher degree of workforce diversity outpace their industry peers in terms of financial performance. Diverse workforces bring new and different insights to business problems, access to different customers, and new ideas.

Q: MSP ranks number 1 among the top 25 U.S. metros for retention of its professional talent, but much lower for individuals of color. How can we address this gap?

Michael: Retention is one of our region’s strengths and at the core of what keeps people in our community is a feeling of connectedness. While we are ranked number 14 for professionals of color overall, the situation is different when looking at professionals of color who have children in their homes. In that case we rank number 2. So it appears that when people have more opportunities to connect to the community, they are more likely to stay. Many people of color have difficulty connecting in this community. That is why improving social inclusion is one of the core strategies of our initiative. People have more mobility options than ever before and if they don’t get connected in a community they will move on.

GREATER MSP conducted a survey last spring among millennials and asked them what they seek when choosing a community in which to live. On most of our region’s attributes – availability of jobs, outdoor recreation, transportation options – there was little difference between white and minority respondents. However, persons of color were 22 percent more likely than white respondents to say that diversity and inclusiveness were “very important.” As a community I think we need to ask ourselves how we are doing with inclusion.

In order to attract talent of color, businesses need to be committed and authentic in the process. They need to help new employees become connected inside their organization and in the broader community too. This may require a paradigm shift in that they aren’t just recruiting talent for their company, but for the region. The more ways employees can connect in the community, the more likely they are to stay.

Q: You led a similar effort in Pittsburgh. What lessons can we use here?

Michael: We learned in Pittsburgh that the private sector needs to be engaged and active in the discussion. It needs to be a partnership between private, public, institutions, foundations and many other partners. No individual organization can succeed on its own. The issues are too complex and too many. We can learn from each other and leverage multiple resources to drive improvement.

Q: What was your biggest surprise when you became CEO of GREATER MSP in 2011?

Michael: I knew the region had a lot going for it, but now I better realize the enormous potential that we have to make a huge difference in solving the biggest issues the world is going to face in this century. Our global leadership in food, water, and health solutions is simply startling. We are not without our issues as well, including pronounced racial disparities. I am encouraged, though, by how engaged the leadership – private, public, institutional – is in wanting to work on the issues together. The willingness of leaders to look at issues on a regional level and try to find the best solution for the region is phenomenal. Our civic engagement is number 1 in the country and it shows. While there is work to do, we will show that together we can make this region a place where businesses and all individuals can prosper.

Michael Langley is the founding CEO of GREATER MSP, the Minneapolis Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership. He brings years of experience to the role as a widely recognized economic development strategist who has led successful regional economic development organizations in Florida and Pennsylvania.



Minnesota on the move: Examining migration patterns

6 surprising trends about Minnesota's millenials


2015 Community Economic Development Symposium, May 1

In our library:

The Changing Face of the Heartland: Preparing America's Diverse Workforce for Tomorrow (Brookings Institution, March 2015)

Our Regional Competitiveness Depends on Broadening Opportunities for a More Diverse and Inclusive Workforce (Itasca Project, March 2015)

Minnesota on the Move: Migration Patterns & Implications (Minnesota State Demographic Center, January 2015)

Making Work Pay in Minnesota (Minnesota House of Representatives Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs in Minnesota, April 2014)


Opinions expressed in Minnesota Compass guest columns do not necessarily reflect the views of Minnesota Compass. Compass welcomes a range of views about issues pertaining to quality of life in Minnesota.