Spotlight On: B Kyle, President & CEO, St. Paul Area Chamber

Spotlight On: B Kyle, President & CEO, St. Paul Area Chamber

2022-08-24T14:30:10-04:00August 24th, 2022|Economy, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Spotlight On|

2 min read August 2022 B Kyle, president & CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber, is using adaptation and logic to help move the business community of St. Paul and the East Metro forward. Within this interview, Kyle discusses the future of chambers of commerce, the effects of COVID on businesses and the impact of recent legislation and ongoing trends in politics. 

You have been with the St. Paul Area Chamber for five years now. How has this experience impacted you and what direction would you like to see the chamber head moving forward?

The work of chambers is so intense and critical. You can become consumed by this job because you care so deeply for the people and organizations you serve. 

We have been in “build” mode these first five years, clarifying our value proposition and important bodies of work. Moving forward, we move into a “refining” season. First, we want to operationalize those priorities and values, with concentrated effort in support of the needs of our members. Included in this is empowering the next generation, thought leadership in advocating for policies that support economic growth and investing in initiatives that meet the critical needs of employers now: inclusive talent, business and economic development. Chambers of commerce have to adapt to stay relevant, current and impactful to the business community. Second, our marketing approach needs to be fresh, current and inviting. We need to welcome people in. And, finally, we need to continue our revenue diversification strategy because thriving chambers must expand beyond membership revenue alone. 

What has recovery looked like locally since the pandemic and civil unrest of 2020?

We are experiencing the ebbs and flows of real recovery – and change. Buildings and corridors heavily damaged in the unrest that followed George Floyd’s murder are being redeveloped. We have lost businesses; others have adapted in extraordinary ways.  Traffic and activity are awake again in Downtown. Events that bring in thousands, like the recent MLS All-Star Week, are bigger than ever. People are delighted to be together again. 

Beyond recovery, I am most hopeful because this region, center stage for the past two years but also with a long history of significant social, educational and health disparities, is legitimately investing in change. We are in “A Moment.” We have an unprecedented opportunity to lead the nation in committing the resources necessary to achieve racial and economic justice. Most notable to me is the GroundBreak Coalition, a group of 25 corporate, civic and philanthropic leaders with a goal to lead the nation by investing in transformational solutions to close racial gaps.  

What permanent impact has the pandemic left on the business community within St. Paul and Minneapolis?

Employers are thinking intelligently about how to support employees in this new normal. I am hearing phrases like “work your way” and “flex for your day.” Leadership is intentionally responding to the human element of work, creating flex spaces, concierge tech support as well as creative opportunities to build culture among employees. This does mean that fewer offices have people in them five days a week. A majority of companies here now are standardizing to a hybrid work schedule, with employees actually in the office two or three days a week. Restaurant schedules are shifting too, in response. My team members are in the office at least two days a week, and they flex the remaining three days. So, we are a microcosm of this trend.

This “new normal” has raised questions about unintended consequences in terms of the corporate real estate market but we have yet to see any real trends. Some of our largest companies headquartered here have decided to double down on their real estate and transform their space to better suit the modern work environment without decreasing office space. 

Hiring is different as a result too. Companies from other states are courting Minnesota employees with fully virtual work opportunities and vice versa.  It makes for fascinating conjecture about small town living moving forward: if people can slow down the pace of life and work fully remotely, I wonder if people won’t seek that out?  Again, too soon to tell.

What are some of the concerns about the St. Paul rent control ordinance that was passed last year?

I can’t say it strongly enough – we have very real concerns about this ordinance. We have yet to find one as strict anywhere else in the world. As a case in point, our county is dealing with a current housing shortage of 15,000 units. What we need is more development. Instead, what we have is rent control. In an inflationary period, 8.5% at the time of this interview, property owners are faced with a 3% rental cap with no inflationary considerations or adjustments. 

I do appreciate the need for renters to be protected from bad actors in the landlord community. This isn’t how you do it. You can’t legislate to the least common denominator. Maslow said it best, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” The results? The drop in permits for housing this year, compared to the same period in 2021, is down 86% and deeply concerning.

Are there any upcoming or current legislative and/or political developments that you believe could have a significant impact on the business community?

Of particular concern to me, beyond specific issues, is the increasing ideological polarization within our political parties and the demonizing of anyone who disagrees. Both parties are moving further away from “center,” where – to my mind – most Americans place themselves. Now, how is that impactful to the business community? With state and federal politics more deadlocked than ever, local politicians are taking on topics that historically are beyond the scope of city government. For example, you asked about rent control. Typically, where rent stabilization or control measures are in place, they are established at a state level. Minnesota’s governor has chosen not to employ rent control, so an activist organization picked it up instead, locally. The current environment is leading to real and significant implications for business and housing development. 

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