Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Bloomington is vying for a world expo to come to town in 2027. It's up against countries all over the world

A mockup of the world expo in Minnesota
A mockup of the World Expo 2027 if it were held in Minnesota.
Courtesy of Minnesota USA Expo 2027

The last time the U.S. hosted a World's Fair, back in 1984, gas was a dollar a gallon and Ronald Reagan was president.

Minnesota, specifically Bloomington, is vying for a World Expo to come to town in 2027. We should find out early Wednesday morning if Minnesota's bid is successful.

Minnesota is up against Argentina, Serbia, Spain and Thailand. John Stanoch is president of Minnesota's bid committee for the 2027 world expo and he joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about it.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: The last time the US hosted a World's Fair back in 1984, gas was $1 a gallon, Ronald Reagan was president, and television coverage of the Fair sounded something like this.

MAN 1: WDSU TV 6 presents the great celebration World's Fair '84.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

MAN 2: For the 75th time in 133 years since they've been holding these events, the world is focused today on a grand celebration, namely this World's Fair in New Orleans. The theme, The World of Rivers: Freshwater as a Source of Life.

CATHY WURZER: Minnesota, specifically Bloomington, is vying for a World Expo to come here in 2027. Now, we should find out early tomorrow if Minnesota's bid is successful. Minnesota is up against Argentina, Serbia, Spain, and Thailand. Jon Stanoch is on the line. He's the president of Minnesota's bid committee for the 2027 World Expo. Welcome to the program.

JOHN STANOCH: Thanks, Cathy. Great to be with you.

CATHY WURZER: And likewise. Thanks for-- good to hear your voice again. The theme would be healthy people, healthy planet.

JOHN STANOCH: OK.

CATHY WURZER: And of course, a theme that I'm assuming reflects Minnesota's stance in that field in health care.

JOHN STANOCH: It sure does. This was an-- this has been a multi-year effort. And the theme of healthy people, healthy planet is we've advanced this to first earn the right to be the official US bid, but then taken our effort internationally if you think about our health care sector in Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota hospitals, the marvelous medical care we have throughout our state.

If you think about medical alley, and MedTec, and the largest cluster of medical technology companies in the world. If you think about food safety, and food security, and companies like Cargo and Ecolab, we are home to some of the world's leading interests in this area. And we think we have a lot to offer the world to convene a conversation about how we can all be healthier and how our planet can be healthier.

CATHY WURZER: So is this a massive trade show? Why would a citizen want to go?

JOHN STANOCH: Well, I think there's a number of reasons. We've talked about it. And this is like a trade show meets Davos meets other kinds of-- there's an entertainment factor to this. But I think let's take it first on the perspective of countries from-- throughout the world will come and highlight their countries. And so it will be a great opportunity for Minnesotans and folks from across the country and across the world to immerse themselves in other cultures and with other countries and learn more about their countries, their food, their traditions, things they want to highlight.

There are entertainment aspects to this. So it's fun. But it also has the seriousness of purpose around convening a discussion around healthy people, healthy planet. We've keyed off of the United Nations' sustainable development goal number three, which is focused on health and wellness. And it just so happens that there are 13 work-- weeks of the Expo and there are 13 subthemes.

So leading up to the Expo in 2027, during the 93 days of the event, and we hope on a legacy basis for our community and state, there will be a contribution to the global dialogue about individual health, about population health and the health of the planet. And so this is something we're very proud as Minnesotans. And we do things big. And we do them well. And so we hope to convene these conversations. But we have so many strengths that fit our economic clusters of strength in Minnesota and in the Twin Cities.

CATHY WURZER: Why Bloomington? You could have gone Minneapolis, or Duluth, or Rochester given the focus on health care.

JOHN STANOCH: Well, Bloomington raised their hand and said, we think we have the perfect site. So it would-- the proposed site is immediately adjacent to the Mall of America. It's on a site that many people would recognize as the former Bloomingdale's wing of the Mall of America, also the former Thunderbird Hotel. The city of Bloomington and its Port Authority has acquired that land. It's cleared and it's ready for construction.

But the other things, Cathy, that really distinguish our theme and the city of Bloomington is the site itself is Expo ready. So it's literally right across the street from one of the recognized major international airports. We have a multimodal transportation system, involving light rail highway system, trails, bike trails adjacent to the Minnesota River National Wildlife Refuge. And we have a built out hospitality infrastructure with hotels and places to stay, as well as all the cultural, and sports, and arts organizations in the Twin Cities.

So the site itself has a great deal of appeal in the international dialogue because you can come as a visitor to the World Expo in Bloomington and literally land at the airport and be on site within 20 minutes. That's unique amongst our competitors. And it makes the site in Bloomington ready to go. We are truly Expo ready.

CATHY WURZER: Is it truly ready to go? I ask that because I know this is supposed to be intended to be a partnership between the public and private sectors. But might more public money need to be spent because of any infrastructure modifications necessary to host this?

JOHN STANOCH: Right. Possibly. One of the things that probably is the major driver of the costs related to the Expo will be the construction of the facilities. The pavilions where the countries will host their pavilions for the Expo also will need some type of a facility to hold theme presentations. This is, again, what Minnesota does well in the United States for that matter, public/private partnerships.

There have been discussions on a confidential basis with a number of private developers who are interested in this. It's been a little bit of a chicken and the egg situation because we've said, would you be interested in exploring developing this site? And what they've basically said is, get back to us after June 21. If you win the vote, let's sit down and talk.

So there have been a number of discussions behind the scenes about attracting private development, which would defray probably the most significant development cost to the project. I don't-- this thing, cash flows based on ticket revenue based on sponsorships based on licensing and merchandising, monetizing digital access or virtual access to the programming of the theme, the numbers all work on paper. This has been tested not only by an outside group that looked at the finances, but we had Pricewaterhousecoopers come in and do an analysis of this.

And the international credentialing agency, the Bureau of International Expositions, came to Minnesota and Washington DC in October. And they tested all our financial assumptions. I don't think anyone thinks that at the end of the day, it would be a good idea for a non-profit organization like the Expo Host Committee to own this magnitude of public investment. So this is something that we're very experienced. And Minnesota is putting together public-- private partnerships to build out the site and then run the event.

CATHY WURZER: I understand, given some of the quotes you've made to other news organizations, that it's about $1.4 billion that's going to be spent on this. And I know that, again, there's some state money involved in that. What's the return on investment? What would Minnesota get out of this money-wise, I guess?

JOHN STANOCH: Sure. Well, there would be about $2.5 billion of economic activity total in our state of Minnesota and about $4 billion across the country. But in terms of more specifics, in terms of some of the economics, the projections, and again, this is by independent analysis, would be about $365 million of net new tax revenue coming to the Twin Cities area, to Minnesota.

We estimate that will create about 33,000 jobs in connection with the Expo at an average wage of about $55,000. So if the return on investment is significant-- and that's just for the event itself. As I mentioned earlier, we're hoping that the programming leading up to the Expo will be something that will bring tourists, and scholars, and folks interested in the theme to Minnesota to the Twin Cities certainly during the 93 day days of the event.

But I think in the eyes of the organizers, Cathy, this would be viewed as not maximizing its potential if it doesn't have legacy impact for the community. And so we're hoping the types of connections that we're able to make will attract companies and countries that want to do business in the Twin Cities, that want to explore arts and cultural relationships. We hope it'll have a sustainable impact, just like many of the iconic World's Fairs of the past have had. We hope to bring that to Minnesota.

CATHY WURZER: I know the New Orleans World's Fair organizers were also hoping for the same thing. And that was not a ringing success. They actually declared bankruptcy during its run. What lessons would Minnesota take from the New Orleans experience?

JOHN STANOCH: Well, I think one of the lessons is you better have a sharp pencil when you do the financial projections. And so as I mentioned, we've been very diligent. This wasn't done on the back of a cocktail napkin. We went out and had an independent entity develop a financial projection for this. It was tested, as I mentioned, by both Pricewaterhouse coopers, as well as the BIE themselves.

And so I think it's to be attentive to the expenditures. And it's also to scale it. Part of the size and the scope of the World Expo in Bloomington will depend on how many countries want to participate, what types of pavilions they want built, how much space they want. And so it's a complicated economic formula that will have to evolve between the vote tomorrow if we're successful and the event in 2027. But we're committed to watching our numbers and making sure that we don't repeat the situation in New Orleans.

The other thing I would say is we think we have a relevant team-- theme for the time. The United States and Minnesota made a bid effort in 2017 to host the 2023 Expo. Minnesota and the United States were not successful. That Expo, actually, which was awarded to Argentina, didn't happen because of the pandemic.

But the theme and our alignment with the theme of healthy people, healthy planet, we think, is a major attribute. Everywhere we've gone in our lobbying effort to earn the right to host the Expo, the theme is relevant. The theme resonates. And again, going back to the industry, and economic clusters, and business clusters we have in the areas of health and well-being, we think we're uniquely positioned to execute a very successful World's Fair.

And I would say the other thing is we do things right. When you look at major events like the Super Bowl, the Ryder Cup, a national political convention that was in Saint Paul, we execute on these events. We do it well. And people leave with a favorable impression of Minnesota and the Twin Cities. And that's what we hope to duplicate here.

CATHY WURZER: And I'm sure you're not going to get a whole lot of sleep tonight because the announcement's early tomorrow morning. Is that right?

JOHN STANOCH: That's right. We start at 9:30, which is 2:30 in the morning your time, with the general assembly convening. And there are presentations, brief presentations, by the five countries competing. And those will wrap up about 11:30 Paris time. And by about 6:30 in the morning your time, we should know if we've won the right. So this will move very fast in the morning. When we're done here with the interview, I'm going back into a diplomatic reception.

I've got another one with the team from Minnesota and from the federal government. We're working hard up until the deadline. We were on a number of calls. As a matter of fact, back in Washington DC, the folks at the State Department are working the phones right now. So this is something we're both familiar with. This is the day before the election. And this is the get out the vote effort. And we're working it out right up to the final hour. So you're right, probably not much sleep tonight. But it's a good way not to get sleep because we're working hard.

CATHY WURZER: All right. John Stanoch, thank you.

JOHN STANOCH: You bet, Cathy. Nice to spend some time with you.

CATHY WURZER: Likewise. John Stanoch is President of Minnesota's bid committee for the 2027 World Expo.

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