• 2015 Community Economic Development Symposium Featured Speakers

    J.R. Burke, Keynote Speaker

    Manager of State & Provincial Government Relations, Polaris Industries

    J.R. Burke - CEDJ.R. Burke is the Manager of State & Provincial Government Relations for Polaris Industries in Medina, Minnesota. Previously, he worked for The Harrington Company as Director of Government Relations & General Counsel, the City of St. Paul as Homeland Security Consultant, and for Congressman Bill Luther as Deputy Press Secretary. A native Minnesotan, J.R. graduated from Hamline University School of Law, J.D. (2010), Hamline School of Business, M.A., Public Administration (2006), and St. Cloud State University, B.A., Political Science (2001).

    Hedrick Smith, Keynote Speaker


    Hedrick Smith CEDHedrick Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times reporter and Emmy award-winning producer, has established himself as one of America’s premier journalists. In 26 years with The New York Times, Smith served in Saigon, Cairo, Paris, the American South and as bureau chief in Moscow and Washington. In 1971, he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for the Pentagon Papers series and in 1974, he won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting from Russia and Eastern Europe. He has produced more than 50 hours of documentaries for PBS and authored five books, including “The Russians,” “The Power Game: How Washington Works,” and “Who Stole the American Dream?” a stunning account of how we have become Two Americas.

    Steve Chávez

    Legal Executive

    Steve Chavez CEDChávez has a high profile, broad practice serving Fortune 500 and mid cap corporate clients in diverse industries headquartered in the Twin Cities area. Presently, he conducts his multi-national transactional practice from his office in Eagan, which includes government relations, ethics, compliance, corporate governance, enterprise risk management, business continuity planning and strategic planning.

    Since his appointment by Governor Dayton to the Metropolitan Council in March 2011, Steve serves as the co-chair of the Housing Policy Plan Working Group, chair of the Equity Working Group, chair of the Litigation Review Committee, chair of the Management Committee, member of the Audit Committee, Community Development Committee, Thrive MSP 2040 Working Group, Cedar Avenue Transitway Policy Advisory Committee, Robert Street Steering Committee and liaison for the Metropolitan Council to the Metropolitan Airports Commission. The Metropolitan Council, with 4200 employees, an annual operating budget of $927,000,000 and an annual capital budget in excess of $500,000,000, is the planning authority for the seven county Minneapolis - St. Paul region and operates public transit, waste water treatment facilities and funds regional parks, serving 2.8 million residents. Steve earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Notre Dame Law School in Notre Dame, Indiana and his Bachelor of Arts in Government from Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota.

    Marc Cove

    Chief Lending Officer and Market President, Platinum Bank

    Marc Cove CEDMarc defines his role at Platinum Bank as stewardship. One of the original co-founders, he’s all about small business lending and loan structure. He thinks outside the box and loves turning the economic wheel by giving to community through banking. Marc has worked in banking for over 25 years; prior to founding Platinum Bank, he held positions as Vice President of Commercial Lending and Customer Service/Branch Manager. Marc is a passionate member of the Minnesota Banker’s Association, to ensure that the landscape for banking and the laws surrounding it are suited to meet his clients’ needs. He is committed to making Platinum Bank the leading provider of quality, value-added banking services and the bank of choice for small business owners.

    Glenn Ford

    founder, praxis marketplace

    Glenn Ford - CEDLeveraging a senior level corporate background with Fortune 100 companies like PepsiCo, Baxter Healthcare, Indiana National Bank, EDS, and 15 years of entrepreneurship, Glenn Ford is using those skills to now create food ventures that can lead to the profitable revitalization of Inner City communities. With a Masters Degree from Northwestern University, and two other business degrees from Eastern Illinois University, Glenn is Founder of Praxis Marketplace, a food holding company immediately planning to build grocery stores and Aquaponics facilities. He believes that only when there are business solutions to inner city challenges, will the circumstances significantly change.

    Fred Haberman

    Co-Founder and CEO, Haberman

    Fred Haberman CEDFred Haberman and his agency, Haberman, have an agenda—to make a difference in the world by helping pioneers in a variety of industries, including food, health and technology tell their stories. Haberman is a creative connection and engagement agency that helps organizations generate revenue, inspire engagement and drive positive social change.

    Haberman works with clients like Traditional Medicinals, Earthbound Farm and Organic Valley, as well as the McKnight and Bush Foundations—helping them do good in the world while simultaneously guiding them to grow and prosper. He also helps run the Herzfeld Foundation in Wisconsin——focusing on early childhood education and the arts.

    Fred is adept at creating and leading movements from scratch, as he did with the Volvo for Life Awards, the Bancroft Arnesen Expedition and the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. Most recently, Fred co-founded Urban Organics, the St. Paul-based indoor aquaponics farm that has been written up everywhere from Fast Company to Newsweek, and named one of 10 innovative projects from around the world by London’s The Guardian.

    MayKao Y. Hang

    President and CEO, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation

    MaryKao Hang CEDDr. MayKao Hang is the President and CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of those who live in the greater St. Paul, Minnesota area. MayKao has extensive experience in the public and the non-profit sectors, serving low income and disadvantaged populations. She is committed to achieving an equitable society where everyone can prosper. MayKao has a BA degree in Psychology from Brown University, a MA degree in Social Policy and Distributive Justice from the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and a Doctorate in Public Administration from Hamline University. She was delighted to be inducted into the Como Park Hall of Fame in 2014. She currently Co-Chairs the Itasca Project’s Socio-economic Disparities Work Group, a regional CEO led group working to reduce employment disparities.

    She currently serves as the a Trustee of Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, Deputy Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and an Advisory Committee member of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. She has been recognized with awards for her work including the Ann Bancroft Dream Maker Award, the Humphrey Public Leadership Award, the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans Leadership Award, and has been named one the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal’s 40 under 40.

    Warren Hanson

    President and CEO, Greater Minnesota Housing Fund (GMHF) and Minnesota Equity Fund (MEF)

    Warren Hanson CEDMr. Hanson is the President & CEO of Greater Minnesota Housing Fund (GMHF) and Minnesota Equity Fund (MEF). GMHF & MEF provide low cost loans, equity investments, technical assistance, and program grants to communities throughout Minnesota for the creation of affordable housing. GMHF is certified as a Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) by the US Treasury, with the mission of strengthening communities. Its programs focus on workforce housing development, permanent supportive housing for the homeless, affordable housing preservation and green building. Mr. Hanson was previously director of Neighborhood Development for the City of Saint Paul, director of economic development for West Bank Community Development Corporation (WBCDC), and the co-founder of Community Reinvestment Fund USA. Mr. Hanson holds a Master’s Degree in City and Regional Planning from Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture, based in Brooklyn, NY.

    Blake Huffman

    Ramsey County Commissioner

    Blake Huffman CEDCommissioner Huffman was elected to the Ramsey County Board in November 2012. Prior to joining the Board of Commissioners, he served as a city councilman in Shoreview from 1996 – 2012, where he served as President of the Economic Development Authority, Acting Mayor, Chairman of the North Suburban Cable Commission and several other community organizations.

    Huffman has been a Vice President at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage for the past decade. He is a graduate of Mounds View High School and Bethel University.

    Blake started a local non-profit, The Suburban Area Housing Initiative. SAHI buys houses in northern Ramsey County that are in need of repair, fixes them up with volunteer help and rents the homes to low-income, single moms.

    Matt Kramer

    President, Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce

    Matt Kramer CEDMatt Kramer is president of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest local chamber. Previously Matt was Chief of Staff to Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and, prior to that, an executive with British Telecom. Matt holds an doctorate in Leadership from Creighton University and is a frequent consultant to strategic initiatives across Minnesota.


    Nancy Libersky

    District Director, Minnesota District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration

    Nancy Libersky CEDIn this role since 2010, she is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the SBA’s programs which include facilitating loans to small businesses through commercial banks, advocating federal government contracting opportunities for small businesses, and working with local communities in all 87 Minnesota counties on entrepreneurial development and growth opportunities.

    Nancy brings to the position 25 years of federal experience, most recently serving as the Regional Manager for International Trade Programs with SBA’s Office of International Trade. Prior to SBA, she served as the Director of the SBA 504 Certified Development Corporation covering southern Colorado.

    Kevin McKinnon

    Deputy Commissioner of Economic Development, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED)

    Kevin McKinnon CEDKevin McKinnon was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Economic Development at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) in November 2014, bringing 15 years of economic development experience to the position. He joined DEED’s Business and Community Development division as director of business development in 2006 and was named its executive director in 2012. As Deputy, he oversees this division, the Minnesota Trade Office and the Office of Broadband Development. McKinnon serves on a variety of economic development committees and boards. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

    R.T. Rybak

    Executive Director, Generation Next

    R.T. Rybak CEDAfter serving 12 years as mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak became executive director of Generation Next in January of 2014. In his current role he aims to make Minneapolis and St. Paul a national leader in innovative, cradle-to-career approaches to youth development, and works to highlight the crisis of our region’s achievement gap and advance effective strategies for ending it.

    During his tenure as mayor, Rybak led efforts to revitalize north Minneapolis, attack juvenile crime, make Minneapolis a wireless city, end homelessness in 10 years, and significantly reduce the city’s energy consumption to combat global climate change. Rybak also serves as a Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, a Senior Advisor for Municipal Practice at Living Cities, and is a visiting practitioner at the University of Minnesota. A Minneapolis native, R.T. Rybak spent almost 30 years working in journalism, the commercial real estate business, publishing and the Internet before being elected mayor in his first run for public office. He and his wife Megan O’Hara, Youth Employment Director at Wilderness Inquiry, have two grown children.

    Dane Smith

    President, Growth & Justice

    Dane Smith CEDDane Smith has been president since 2007 of Growth & Justice, a non-partisan research and advocacy group that seeks to broaden prosperity in Minnesota, by reducing racial and economic inequality, investing in human capital and physical infrastructure, and fostering business growth. The organization has become a leading voice in Minnesota on public policy and economics and Dane is a frequent speaker and author of published commentary. Before Growth & Justice, Dane enjoyed a 30-year career in journalism, covering politics and government for the Minneapolis Star, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the Star Tribune, at the national, state and local level. He has won several journalism awards, co-authored a book on Paul Wellstone’s 1990 U.S. Senate campaign, and studied government finance for a year as a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.

    Jeff Van Wychen

    Jeff Van Wychen - CEDFor over 25 years, Jeff Van Wychen was a policy analyst for various local governments and non-profit organizations. Before becoming a consultant in 1998, Jeff was a fiscal analyst for the City of Minneapolis and, prior to that, for the League of Minnesota Cities. He received a master’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota in 1984.

    Jeff served as a policy fellow for Minnesota 2020 from 2008 to January of 2011, before leaving to serve as the senior research analyst in the office of Governor Mark Dayton. Jeff returned to Minnesota 2020 in January 2013 as director of tax studies, a position which he held until September 2014. In addition to ongoing work with local governments and non-profits, Jeff recently became a policy fellow with Growth & Justice.

    Ellen Watters


    Ellen Watters CEDEllen Watters has a deep background in community development focusing on research, project management and strategic planning to create prosperity in neighborhoods, cities and regions. Her recent portfolio of work includes serving as co-project manager for the Central Corridor Anchor Partnership, a collaborative of 13 higher education and healthcare institutions in Minneapolis-St. Paul working together to create economic opportunity and neighborhood stability in a targeted geography. Prior to establishing her consulting practice 8 years ago she was Senior Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development for the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.