Winners and losers from the RNCby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
It'll be about six weeks before sales tax data gives a read, perhaps, on the economic impact of the Republican National Convention on the Twin Cities. With the economy in a funk these days, it may be pretty hard to divine the net dollar impact of the grand event. But it's clear some business got a financial kick, while others were greatly disappointed.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Mall of America, it seems, is the must-visit destination for just about everyone visiting the Twin Cities. The delegates, media and other folks in town for the Republican National Convention were no exception.
"Most of them came out here at least once to check it out," said Dan Jasper, director of public relations for the Mall of America.
"We've seen lot of credentials. Lots of elephant pins. People are wearing those with pride," Jasper continued. "But you can really tell them because they are the ones walking around, kind of gawking, with their mouths agape and their eyes wide open, looking like, 'I can't believe it's really this large.'"
Many delegations, including those from California, Illinois and Connecticut, came by the busload. Jasper says the delegates clearly boosted foot traffic over the Labor Day weekend.
He adds that traffic at the amusement park within the mall was up about 20 percent.
"On a sunny Labor Day weekend, typically foot traffic is a little low at the mall because people are outside enjoying the last vestiges of summer," Jasper said. "And we actually had very heavy foot traffic. A lot of them were wearing credentials or elephant pins, to other ways of identifying themselves as being part of the convention."
Jasper says it'll be about a month before the mall compiles merchants' sales reports and can try to see how much the convention may have pumped up sales.
Sales weren't exactly sizzling for many area merchants. In St. Paul, the city and building owners recruited dozens of small retailers to try to fill up the slew of empty storefronts in the city's skyway system.
Laura Benson of Edina sells hand-woven baskets, usually for $50 to $70. And she thought they would be some sales to be had in downtown St. Paul, as conventioneers flooded the city's skyways.
Benson paid $150 to rent space in a former Norwest Bank location on the skyway. It's been a bust.
"The first two days I sold nothing," Benson said.
And by about noon Thursday, she had just six sales. Benson says Republican convention delegates were rare. And lots of people who normally come downtown didn't show up.
"There just hasn't been much traffic," Benson said. "We've seen maybe one or two delegates come through, but very, very little convention traffic. We think a lot of the people and business downtown have stayed away."
Benson's fellow merchants didn't have much success either. Kathryn Severance set up a booth to sell imported linens, cookware and crystal.
"I've had had only one Republican do business with me, and the credit card did not work," she said.
Severance says the convention's retail potential was over-hyped.
"We were given promises, especially by the committee that was welcoming the RNC, that we would see a lot more business. And we haven't," Severance said.
Indeed, it's a good bet there were far fewer people in St. Paul's skyways than usual. Many companies encouraged employees to take time off or telecommute. One of those was Lawson Software, which has about 800 employees in downtown St. Paul.
"We probably had a little over half of our employees telecommuting," said Joe Thornton, a Lawson spokesman. Thornton says telecommuting allowed employees to avoid convention hassles and permitted Lawson to maintain productivity and operate as usual.
That was true, it appears for most employers. But a lot of them were much more security conscious. Many companies rushed to hire security firms to protect employees and property during the convention.
Hannon Security Services of Bloomington was among the firms scrambling to provide guards to worried companies.
"This is probably the busiest week we've ever had," said Nicholas Luciano, vice president of Hannon.
"We're really being tested as far as how many places we can cover all at once. We got a lot of people on overtime," said Luciano. "Basically, we're doing just like the police are doing, except I haven't been able to call in reinforcements from out of state."
Luciano says business is good, but not great. Billable hours are up, but so are labor and equipment costs. And the convention is only providing about a week-long bump to business.
Luciano says he hopes his company's performance during the convention will win Hannon long-term security contracts. He says that's where the convention could really pay off for his company.
It may or may not for Hannon. But most economists seem to think the convention will end up being about a wash economically for the Twin Cities, when all the benefits -- and costs -- are added up.