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Location, labor force make region ideal business site

A business couldn't find a better place to do business, advised a successful serial entrepreneur and pioneer in the loyalty marketing field, speaking at the I-Q Corridor Investors' Symposium at UW-River Falls last week.

In terms of pragmatism, people and potential, companies couldn't choose a better home base than the upper Midwest -- in particular Wisconsin and Minnesota, said Mark Lacek.

This first-time I-Q Corridor symposium -- organized by the Wisconsin Technology Council -- brought together potential investors, entrepreneurs, higher education representatives and economic development groups from both Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"Almost all of my dreams have come true, and they came true in a two-hour radius of where I am now," said Lacek, who lives in Minneapolis and has a lake home in Wisconsin.

"I came from nothing, but I came from everything," he said. Lacek grew up in Mercer, a town of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants in northern Wisconsin, where he learned to love the outdoors and adventure.

He attended UW-RF, graduating in 1979 with a degree in economics.

Lacek began his career in strategic planning at Republic Airlines. When Republic merged with Northwest Airlines, he became director of marketing at Northwest. He claims responsibility for WorldPerks, Northwest's frequent flyer program.

In 1991, following a brush with death and four months "out of commission," Lacek had what he called "an epiphany."

"I became very risk tolerant and very resistant to sitting still," he said of the outcome.

In 1993 he co-founded Lacek Group Worldwide, a global marketing company that managed loyalty programs for such brands as National Car Rental, Starwood Hotels and Singapore Airlines.

Subsequent endeavors include MilePoint Worldwide, a loyalty application and consulting service provider; True North, a real estate development company; and Faith's Lodge, a retreat for families who have a seriously ill child or who have suffered the loss of a child.

"Greed isn't good, but money is good," said Lacek, reporting that his success has given him the financial ability to spend time with his family and help others.

Traveling with his family and being able to help a high school friend at risk of losing his house: "Things like that are beyond compare," said Lacek.

The smart business person should be focused, surround himself with people smarter than himself and really try to have fun, advised Lacek.

From a pragmatic viewpoint, the Midwest is a good place to situate a business, he said, pointing out that by air, it's three hours or less from either coast or from major U.S. markets.

Because the region isn't dominated by any industry or sector, it's very resilient to economic downturns, added Lacek.

Also, he said, the region's educational system is the best in the country and its liberal culture is accepting of new ideas and diversity.

The region also has leaders with integrity, said Lacek.

"We had to have a senator from Idaho come in to cause us scandal in our bathrooms," he joked.

As for philanthropy, the Twin Cities area is noted for its residents' willingness "to give back," said Lacek.

"In New York, it's all about 'me' and what can I do to get ahead," he said. "In this part of the world, it's not like that."

He told of talking with a person from New York who was delighted that business contacts in the Twin Cities returned calls, were nice and weren't abrasive.

"People like to do business with people they like, and generally Midwestern people are nice," said Lacek.

In this region, said Lacek, people watch out for one another, are loyal, take satisfaction in their neighbor's success and -- not least of all -- are competent.

"I'll take my team from the Midwest and put them up against anyone in the world, anywhere, anytime," he said.

Modern technology allows many business people to work from anywhere they choose, said Lacek, saying that he often works "up at the lake."

"We can work out of here, and we can compete on the world stage here today," he said.