Northfield native Steve Grove now leads the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, a role that continues a successful career that has included stints at YouTube and The Boston Globe.
Grove was appointed by newly elected Gov. Tim Walz in January.
A 1996 Northfield High School graduate, Grove holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Claremont McKenna College and a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.
“As I was there, the internet was just starting to completely change the future of journalism and media and also politics and how people engage with their public officials,” he said.
YouTube had just started and was not created to be a political tool. It later became a way for citizen-journalists, public officials and media companies to instantly transmit news and other information to the public.
Grove led YouTube’s first news and politics team.
“It was exciting,” he said. “It was just kind of the wild west of the internet as a tool for democracy, and we did everything from hold debates (along) with CNN and CBS and Fox News, where YouTube questions would drive the discussion, to holding social media interviews with the president of the United States,” he said.
Steve and Mary Grove and their twin 2-year-old daughters moved last year from Silicon Valley to Minneapolis. While Grove was still working for Google remotely, Walz called him and asked whether he was interested in leading DEED, one of 23 state cabinet-level positions. Grove had volunteered on Walz’s first campaign in 2006, and they had stayed in touch.
To Grove, leading the department was similar to working in technology because they both focus on large-scale impact.
“You gotta believe in who you are working for, and I believe in the governor and what he wants to do for the state,” he said.
DEED, a department of approximately 1,400 employees, focuses on workforce development, creating the best possible labor market for the state and helping people from underserved backgrounds find employment.
“How do we grow an economy that is prepared for the future and how do we get the kinds of businesses that are going to build that next wave of Fortune 500s for Minnesota to grow and to thrive and to prosper and for businesses to want to stay here, for them to want to come here?” Grove asked.
Legislation passed in Grove’s first year as DEED commissioner included $47 million to tackle the opportunity gap, directing appropriations to nonprofits that train employees from target populations and competitive grant programs. Forty million dollars in funding was secured for the state broadband grant program.
“It’s not the government that’s going to grow the state’s economy,” Grove said. “It’s businesses, it’s entrepreneurs, it’s workers. And I think we want to fill the gaps that the market isn’t incentivized to fill.”
DEED seeks to shrink the labor market gap so there are more people for companies to hire, focus on economic opportunity for people of color and people with employment barriers and make Minnesota a leading player in the innovation economy.
“If we don’t activate our labor force in communities more effectively, we’re not going to meet the needs of our economy,” Grove said.
Grove, who has worked for the Northfield News, was a Google executive for 12 years, most recently founding director of Google’s News Lab, a global division of the company that partners with media companies and startups. He has built teams in more than a dozen countries and launched partnerships in more than 50 countries, including a global technology training effort that has trained more than 500,000 people every year.
Grove led Google’s civic engagement work, including its non-partisan voter information and get-out-the-vote outreach efforts. He wrote for The Boston Globe and ABC News prior to joining Google and has served as an advisor to the White House and State Department on counter-terrorism strategy. He serves on the advisory board of video human rights nonprofit Witness and Report for America, a nationwide service organization looking to improve local news.
He is an international security fellow at the New America Foundation and co-founded a nonprofit with his wife, called Silicon North Stars. The organization helps youth from underserved Minnesota communities pursue technology careers.
Grove credited his hometown with helping him get to where he is.
“I hit the jackpot in terms of where you’re from,” he said. “I think this is a really supportive community. I think that the educational system here is outstanding. I think the teachers I had in high school really prepared me for what was next.”