Best Buy preparing open-source release of IdeaX suggestion box

If you’ve ever dropped an idea into the suggestion box at a store or your workplace, chances are pretty good that nothing ever happened with it. A manager maybe emptied the box at the end of the month, skimmed through the notes, possibly relayed one or two to his manager, then tossed them all into the nearest blue recycling bin.

The time you spent scribbling with a stubby pencil on a quarter-sheet of paper probably went to waste.

Idea flow is a challenge even for companies with a reputation for feeding off employee and customer suggestions. Take Best Buy. The consumer electronics retailer has a culture that encourages employees to speak up when they have thoughts for improving the company. But until recently it hasn’t had a place to collect and organize those suggestions where they wouldn’t get lost in shuffle.

“It was a part of our nature that we weren’t fully taking advantage of,” says Joshua Kahn, manager of emerging media technology for Best Buy.

That started to change a few years ago with the advent of social media, including Blue-Shirt Nation, the in-house network that allows Best Buy employees from around the world to connect with one another.

Now, the company is developing a new tool: a social, virtual, online suggestion box aimed at capturing — and capitalizing on — ideas submitted by its customers and employees from around the world.

The project is called Best Buy IdeaX, and it launched in May 2009. In a few weeks, the company expects to publish an open-source version, allowing anyone else to use the code for free as long as they share improvements with Best Buy and all other users. The release will mark the first time the retailer has ever issued a program as an open-source project. Continue reading “Best Buy preparing open-source release of IdeaX suggestion box”

Medical relief group prepares to ship supplies from Minnesota to Haiti

A semitrailer full of relief supplies will roll out of Patty Nelson’s driveway in Aitkin, Minn., on Wednesday, beginning a 2,000-mile journey from northern Minnesota to northern Haiti.

Nelson is coordinator for Project Haiti, a medical relief group that’s delivered doctors and supplies to the country during annual mission trips since 1989.

It’s among the dozens of small organizations nationwide rushing to help meet the big need for food, water and other essentials as the nation digs out from the rubble of last Tuesday’s deadly 7.0 earthquake.

“The outpouring of help has been just phenomenal,” said Nelson, a retired nurse who is also secretary and treasurer of Project Haiti. Continue reading “Medical relief group prepares to ship supplies from Minnesota to Haiti”

Co-working sites aim to give Twin Cities telecommuters a better connection

Twin Cities telecommuters have a new option for getting out of the house, and it doesn’t require buying a cup of coffee.

A pair of “co-working” centers opened this week in St. Paul, one in downtown and another in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood.

The centers are independent of each other, but both were inspired by similar hubs on the East and West coasts. The idea is to create a place where self-employed and telecommuting professionals can come together to work, and also benefit from some of the socializing, networking and collaborating that happens in a conventional office.

“It’s not really an office, and it’s not really a coffee shop, but it’s this other, third place and we go there to get work done plus socialize,” said Garrick Van Buren, a Twin Cities web developer who has followed the co-working movement on his blog.

The economy makes it an especially good time to experiment with co-working because many workers are in transition and there’s a surplus of commercial office space, he said. Continue reading “Co-working sites aim to give Twin Cities telecommuters a better connection”

Minnesota legislators sound alarm about invasive Asian carp

Michigan’s attorney general announced a lawsuit Monday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to cut off a Chicago-area canal system that could allow invasive Asian carp to enter the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, a group of Minnesota legislators says officials here must take “immediate action” to prevent the voracious invaders from devastating this state’s waterways and native fish populations.

“We’ve got to get moving on this,” said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul. “We know that these fish are a problem, and we know that they’re moving here.” Continue reading “Minnesota legislators sound alarm about invasive Asian carp”

Vikings, NFL flagging more players for head injuries

A week ago, Minnesota Vikings safety Tyrell Johnson took a hit against the Arizona Cardinals so hard he said he couldn’t remember details of the injury.

On Sunday, Johnson was on the sidelines during the Viking’s play-off clinching win against the Cincinnati Bengals. Johnson was one of about 20 players league-wide who missed playing or practice time last week due to head or concussion injuries.

The number of players showing up on weekly injury reports for head or concussion injuries has spiked in recent weeks, from four the week of Nov. 15 to 19 last week.

The increase follows a series of high-profile concussions, and on top of growing awareness of the long-term risks associated with head injuries. Is it just the usual late-season wear and tear, or are teams being more proactive about reporting concussions? Continue reading “Vikings, NFL flagging more players for head injuries”

“It’s a sad day for Minnesota”

The budget forecast delivered by state finance officials on Wednesday is perhaps the bleakest outlook in Minnesota’s history.

“This is the worst, without a question,” said Jay Kiedrowski, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

As the state’s chief financial officer under Gov. Rudy Perpich in the 1980s, Kiedrowski dealt hands-on with the fallout from another major recession.

What’s compounding the current shortfall is that it comes on the heels of already deep budget cuts and under a governor who refuses to raise revenues, he said.

The trends, if left unchecked, will have widespread consequences, from larger K-12 class sizes and higher college tuition rates to bumpier roads and fewer police officers.

“It’s a sad day for Minnnesota,” said Kiedrowski. Continue reading ““It’s a sad day for Minnesota””

Gov. Pawlenty suggests he may use unallotment again

He did it before. Will he do it again?

A year ago this week, state finance officials broke the news to lawmakers about a projected $426 million budget deficit facing the state. The report set the table for a round of controversial budget cuts by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who used a once-obscure administrative power called unallotment to take back millions of dollars previously promised to state programs and local governments.

Today, the state’s budget office released this year’s edition of its fall budget forecast, and it showed another looming deficit, $1.2 billion for the current budget cycle. Early this afternoon, Pawlenty confirmed the worst fears of cities and counties, saying that he would prefer to work with the Legislature but that he may need to address the deficit problem this month by unalloting local government aid again.

“The worry is that it will be very large again,” said Steve Peterson, senior policy analyst for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Continue reading “Gov. Pawlenty suggests he may use unallotment again”

GOP candidates for governor talk about fiscal crisis

A panel of Republican candidates for governor on Wednesday painted a dire portrait of a state in fiscal crisis.

Speaking at a private forum for Medtronic employees, the five GOP contenders described a state budget broken from unsustainable spending. And they spoke about an alarming migration trend they see in which businesses are fleeing the state due to taxes and regulation while indigents flock here to take advantage of overly generous social programs.

The solution, according to former State Auditor Pat Anderson: Be more like South Dakota, a state which has no personal or corporate income tax and fewer public services and amenities.

Minnesota should do “the exact same thing,” Anderson said. “I think the key is to have a good South Dakota-style business climate and then get out of the way.”

But state Rep. Marty Seifert said calling for the elimination of income taxes is “pandering” to voters and that state government needs to use certain subsidies in order to accomplish its goals.

The exchange was one of a couple barbs traded between Seifert and Anderson in what was otherwise a friendly and uncontentious forum, sponsored by Medtronic’s employee political action committee and moderated by Rick Kupchella of Continue reading “GOP candidates for governor talk about fiscal crisis”

Student group wants pledge from ‘U’ to dump coal

A student group at the University of Minnesota wants the school to set a time line for phasing out the burning of coal on campus.

Students Beyond Coal, part of a national Sierra Club campaign, will stage a rally today against the fuel, which is a major source of greenhouse gases and other pollution.

“We want to support what the University has done already” to reduce its coal use and energy consumption, said Siri Simons, a sophomore environmental studies student, “and we want to pressure them to keep moving in that direction.”

But is completely cutting coal from the equation realistic? Continue reading “Student group wants pledge from ‘U’ to dump coal”