2022 Business Benchmarks report: Economy
Stephanie Moncada, Communications Leader, Thermo King
The success of Minnesota’s economy depends on a diverse and sophisticated network of dynamics. But sometimes success is simple to identify, when you see it.
Thermo King’s COVID-19 story is one of success. This long-standing climate control company entered the pandemic a global leader in their industry, with a large footprint in Minnesota and broad set of products. They are leaving the pandemic as the one company that made the safe transport of COVID-19 vaccines into Minnesota possible.
If you ask Stephanie Moncada, Communications Leader for Thermo King, they have innovated since the beginning. “We put the cold in cold chain,” she says. Historically, ice blocks were used to safely move fresh food and temperature-sensitive products. In 1938, a founder of Thermo King and a self-taught engineer invented transport refrigeration. Now the company offers products in every section of the supply chain: trucks, ships, rail lines and air.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, their customers were impacted by shutdowns and decreased demand. Food service slowed to a crawl or shifted to home delivery. On top of the need to pivot operations, they saw a new opportunity: the newly-released COVID-19 vaccines required refrigeration for transport. They didn’t just need to be cold – their safety required transport at negative 70 degrees Celsius; or the temperature on Mars. Thermo King innovated yet again, and added a “super freezer” to their portfolio. When life-saving vaccines arrived in Minnesota, it was Thermo King that brought them there.
Since then, the challenge has been keeping up with growth and demand. Thermo King is experiencing the widespread supply chain and workforce issues seen elsewhere. They have taken great steps to reduce their reliance on foreign supply chains, instead focusing on local companies. And while Moncada cites Minnesota and North America as one of the “easiest places to get good people to come and work,” she also cites the need for skilled work in the competitive areas of data science, electrification and other specialized engineering fields. Thermo King is working with the University of Minnesota to shape curricula and produce these skilled workers to stay in Minnesota.
Minnesota’s economy overall has weathered the COVID-19 storm because of companies like Thermo King. Leaning into new opportunities through innovation and working to create a talent pipeline to keep these strong businesses in Minnesota for generations to come.
Minnesota's Economy: Resilient but underperforming
There is no one way to define economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s clear that Minnesota has come a long way since the beginning days of shutdowns and widespread layoffs. The state’s GDP didn’t plummet as far as other states’, but it’s not exceeding them either, keeping Minnesota in the middle of the pack. Minnesota is seeing a turnaround in exports after experiencing a 10% decline in 2020. This is still better than the national export decline of 13%. Minnesota’s unemployment rate continues to drop with job vacancies now greatly exceeding the number of unemployed workers.