Could MN become ‘the North?’

A band of people hope dropping the Midwest label for a new one will foster innovation and pride.

Haley Hansen

Despite Minnesota’s snowy winters and frigid weather, there’s a new push to claim the state’s cold and turn it into a selling point.

Though off-putting to some, the chilly climate is what sets the state apart in the Midwest, according to supporters of changing Minnesota’s region to “the North.”

Area residents, including University of Minnesota College of Design dean Tom Fisher, are advocating to rename the area surrounding Minnesota in an attempt to attract talent and improve its image.

With their efforts they’re hoping to generate discussion, and, if needed, take further steps to advance the idea.

Eric Dayton, son of Gov. Mark Dayton, is a leading supporter of the change. He said he was struck by the strong identity of Scandinavian countries while travelling in the area and felt that creating a northern region in the U.S. could better represent it.

 “It just more accurately tells our story,” Dayton said. “This isn’t about trying to make Minneapolis or Minnesota seem like something it isn’t or better than it is.”

He’s the co-owner of local men’s clothing store, Askov Finlayson, and restaurant, The Bachelor Farmer. Dayton’s retail store co-sponsored a panel at the Walker Art Center late last year to discuss Minnesota’s identity in the Midwest.“If we just sit idly by while other states and regions are engaged in that competition, that’s not a winning strategy,” Dayton said. “We need to be telling our story and making an argument for why this is a great place to come live.”

He also said the area needs to become more competitive with the rest of the country and world in attracting talented professionals, which supporters say could come with the new name.

Faribault Woolen Mill Company Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Bildsten, who was a panelist at the Walker event, said the Midwest is too large, and improving the state’s identity could help the area recruit talented people.

Bildsten said he’s happy that conversations about creating a stronger state identity are happening because it encourages northerners to take pride in where they live.

“This region, this state is at its best when we embrace it,” he said.

Supporters note the state’s bitter climate as a reason for why it deserves a new title.

There’s often a connection between cold areas and creative thinkers “because you have to be [innovative] in order to thrive in this climate,” Fisher said, and that’s something Minnesotans should embrace.

Fisher said the University helps bring in talented people to the state, but more could come if the area celebrated all the benefits that come with the chilly weather.

 “Research universities like ours are all about innovation and creativity, and this is the kind of climate that spurs innovation,” he said.

Supporters of “the North” stress that the name change wouldn’t just be a rebranding, but rather a grassroots movement to capture Minnesota and the surrounding area’s culture, climate and spirit.

 “To me, this isn’t about a brand.  This isn’t a logo or a tagline or a catchy slogan,” Dayton said. “This is really about a geographical identity that, I think, has been conspicuously missing all this time.”