5 questions with Ted Risdall

The CEO of Risdall Marketing looks for a legislative “reset”

What drew you to the Center?

I’m concerned about the business climate in the state of Minnesota. We need a larger conversation about how we build Minnesota strong and how we build Minnesota great. I started to think, what body, what group, will lead a thought process, a mindset, to effectively grow Minnesota to be the greatest state it can be? That’s why I got involved with Center of the American Experiment.

Why is it important to have an organization devoted to issues in this state?

The Center doesn’t have to be caught up in the day-to-day grind at the legislature, but can really dig into the big picture and think about how to reset our thinking in bigger ways. Too often at the legislature we get stuck talking about issues and ideas only in terms of how they can be accomplished immediately. That’s great for the short term, but it is small-ball thinking. We need an organization that is always thinking about a mindset that sets us up for the long term.

You were very involved in the process that produced the Minnesota Policy Bluprint. How did that project fit into your thinking?

The Blueprint was exactly the catalyst for making sure that we’re set up for a bigger picture, long-term thought process. The Blueprint had some of that built into it, but it also contained very practical, short-term things that we could get behind. I have found that a lot of folks in the capital are looking for ideas and for organizations that will put some ideas out there. It is not always possible for them to home-grow everything. We need an organization that’s able to say, “You know what? Maybe we just need to have a whole new trajectory around this. Maybe what we’re doing today is just not the right way. We need to step way back and say, ‘reset’.”

You were a co-author of the Blueprint chapter on jobs. How satisfying was it for a business executive to roll up his sleeves and participate in the process? 

We work with more than a thousand companies in Minnesota. I’ve had conversations with CEOs well back into the 1980s about how we get Minnesota set up for long-term success. But a lot of them don’t get involved with politics. They just say Minnesota’s bad for business. We’ve got to change that. If our state GDP is $300 billion right now, we could increase it to $400 billion with a little more population and policies that encourage exports by helping us compete on a world class basis. If we’d do that, all of the families in this state will eat much better. We’ll have that much more cash revenue for our streets and other things we know and love. We’d have a great life together.

What about the next generation of CEOs? The Center has started to invest a lot of energy in the Young Leadership Council, an organization that is trying to inspire issues activism in younger people.

It’s a strategic imperative for this state. My grandfather and my father’s generation both told me that Minnesota’s never going to become a better place to be able to do business. We’re just stuck. Just get used to it. We have to change that attitude. We have to bring back hope — and that starts with younger people