By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — After Patrick Baker graduated from Mankato East High School, he went to college and then spent five years in Washington, D.C., returning home once a year or so.
“Coming back each time, it struck me how much we’ve grown.”
Now, it’s Baker’s job to spread the word about Mankato’s strengths, around the state and at the Capitol. Baker started in November with Greater Mankato Growth in the new position of director of government and institutional affairs.
The position is part of an effort by GMG — the group that merged the local Chamber and economic development authority in 2007 — to bring more recognition to the area as a Metropolitan Statistical Area and give it more clout in the Legislature.
“The main thing I want is for us to be talked about more than we are today,” said Jonathan Zierdt, president and CEO of GMG.
The problem, said Zierdt, is the area recently was officially recognized as a metropolitan regional hub, but the region still isn’t given the same attention or clout as older regional centers St. Cloud, Rochester and Duluth.
The group’s board last year approved spending $390,000 over the next three years for the position and for other lobbying and promotional efforts.
After getting a political science degree, Baker landed a job with the National Governors Association, based in Washington, doing education and workforce advocacy work.
Baker said he is building a public policy program at GMG that he views as a pyramid.
The bottom of the pyramid, he said, “Is engaging your membership and really trying to ascertain what their views are on different subjects.” That, he said, is done with formal sessions, surveys and individual meetings with members.
The middle of the pyramid is having a public policy advisory group — a think tank — that uses member information to develop the issues GMG wants to pursue and decide the best approach to achieve those goals.
“The top of the pyramid is me going out and doing what they decide is needed,” Baker said.
Zierdt and Baker said there are always some disagreements among its diverse membership but said the goal is to develop certain goals GMG and the whole community can rally around. Two of those have already been long defined: pushing for Highway 14 to be a four-lane to New Ulm and supporting state funds for the expansion and renovation of the civic center.
Other broad areas of concern for GMG members are transportation, taxes, health and human services, education and economic development.
Zierdt and Baker said they will use members’ input to decide what specific issues within those areas should be the focus of lobbying and education efforts.
The city will have a chance to showcase itself during Greater Mankato Day at the Capitol on March 20 and 21. Baker said he’s making plans to give the annual event more impact by better organizing and preparing members to meet with lawmakers to advocate for the Mankato area.