Preparing for company

Minneapolis St. Paul 2008 Host Committee President Cyndi Lesher shares insights on convention preparation

On a floor intentionally missing from the directory of a downtown St. Paul office building, about 15 staff members and a few interns that make up the Minneapolis St. Paul 2008 Host Committee are getting ready for the most company the Twin Cities has ever had. 

A crowd of no fewer than 45,000 delegates, alternates, media and other guests will engulf the area Sept. 1–4 for the Republican National Convention (RNC). The host committee is working overtime to make sure the whole deal goes down in the best way it possibly can.

 Leading the effort is Cyndi Lesher, a fireball of energy who fittingly worked supplying power throughout Minnesota and two other states before she was selected for the Host Committee. She’s been on leave for a year and a half from her job as CEO of Xcel Energy’s Northern States Power Company and the four days she’s been preparing for are almost here. 

“We’re 61 days out now, so we’re full bore ahead,” Lesher said during a July 1 interview. “Sure, we’re working 60–70 hours a week, but the good news is it’s exciting. It’s exciting now that we’re getting to the finish line.”

Here are some highlights from that July interview:

Southwest Journal: Why were you interested in this job in the first place?

Lesher: It’s a remarkable opportunity. The last convention we had here was 1892, so the opportunity to participate in something like this doesn’t come along every day. And I was interested because I’m all about wanting to showcase Minneapolis, St. Paul and the rest of Minnesota …

Our job as the Host Committee is to raise $58 million to fund the convention and showcase our cities and our state. And it’s interesting I am doing this because I’m just not about politics or raising money.

SWJ: What’s your strategy?

Lesher: Over the last year and a half, I’ve used every opportunity that we’ve had to appear before public groups, public forums, rotaries, chambers of commerce, business sectors, to talk about the benefits of having a convention here and why we wanted to do this and the remarkable opportunity it provides us both on a short-term basis and on a long-term stability basis.

SWJ: What do you do day
to day?

Lesher: You can have a day planned out, but it can change quickly. I meet with people all the time, which I like very much. I do a number of public appearances, I make a number of donor calls where we’re contacting and meeting with different companies for sponsorships … it’s not boring, I can tell you that!

SWJ: How many volunteers are you trying to round up for the convention?

Lesher: We’d love to have 10,000 and as of this morning we had 7,108, to be specific. And the volunteer effort is going really well, with people signing up every day.

We’ve really started an aggressive outreach program probably in last three weeks and Minnesotans, as we know, are really coming through … and these are people from all walks of life and all political persuasions. They get the civic engagement piece and that this is a part of history … just being part of something bigger than yourself.

And we want to do ‘Minnesota Nice’ the best we can, and we’re proud of that.

SWJ: What will these 7,000-plus volunteers be doing?

Lesher: Everything from transportation to hospitality to special events. It just runs the gamut.

(Volunteers) can indicate interest areas, but we can’t guarantee positions … Few of the volunteers actually get in the Xcel Energy Center because those are coveted positions.

SWJ: You’ve estimated that the convention will bring in $148 million–$200 million. How did you estimate that?

Lesher: Well, it’s based on who is coming, what they generally spend, past history. It has been anticipated that the average delegate will come and spend six days and spend an average of $1,600.

What I love about that number, $150 million–$200 million — and I personally feel that’s a conservative estimate — is that’s dollars spent in the local marketplace. It’s not going to Washington or anything like that.

SWJ: Are federal dollars paying for anything?

Lesher: This is declared a national special security event, and that means we’re eligible for federal dollars and did receive $50 million from Homeland Security to be spent on security. Both political parties actually received that; Denver that is hosting the Democratic National Convention also received $50 million.

SWJ: Have you been in contact with Denver?

Lesher: We’ve been in close contact with them from the beginning.

SWJ: Other cities that have hosted conventions as well?

: When I first took this job, we went and interviewed other cities that have hosted conventions to get lessons learned, and that was very helpful to us. We talked to people from New York, Philadelphia and San Diego.

SWJ: What were some of those lessons learned? Is there anything you want to avoid or hope to do better than those other cities?

Lesher: One of thing that resonated with me from the beginning was that they all said the same thing independently. They said this is so big that at the time you don’t recognize the magnitude of it and, in retrospect, they wish they’d been more intentional with media and storytelling … and that they’d understood in its entirety what it means to showcase your area to the world.

We also learned about volunteers. They told us not to start (recruiting) too early because some conventions have started a year out and what happens is people forget they signed up, they change jobs, their plans change.    

SWJ: Anything else you want Minneapolitans to know?

Lesher: We’re going to be spruced up for company. Both cities are going to look fabulous, there’s going to be parties and events everywhere, people of influence. You know you might see Matt Lauer having a beer on West 7th. It’s going to be like nothing we’ve seen here before. And it’s a chance to be part of history.