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Jaimee Lucke Hendrikson was born and raised in Grand Forks, N.D. It only seems like she's a St. Paul native, so enthusiastic is her cheerleading for the capital city. Named president and CEO of Visit St. Paul in 2023, Hendrikson is tasked with getting tourists, conventioneers and weekend visitors to hang out, spend some money and tell their friends about the less-glitzy twin of the Twin Cities. The city's convention and visitors bureau has added staff and launched a campaign to reach new tourism markets.

Eye On St. Paul grabbed a cup of coffee with Hendrikson to learn more about her job and how she is working to fight Minnesota modesty and shine a brighter light on St. Paul. This interview was edited for length.

Q: What brought you to St. Paul?

A: I went to the University of North Dakota and I always wanted to move to Minneapolis. I pictured myself like, in Uptown, you know, super cool. And so I graduated … and then moved to St. Paul. I had a friend who had a duplex just over on Goodrich. I moved here on the weekend of Grand Old Day 2001.

Q: Define your job.

A: Our organization is charged with marketing and promoting St. Paul to bring more people here. We do a lot of work to bring in meetings and conventions and events. And the reason we do that is to create excellent economic growth for everyone that lives here. So when people come here and visit here and spend their money here, it goes back into the community and supports it.

Q: What sets St. Paul apart?

A: I think we're a mix of historic charm and modern energy. We have global and local here — a diversity of experiences. We have a nice neighborhood feel. We focus on mid-size conventions. We're not as big as Minneapolis, we're not the same in terms of number of hotel rooms, or venue size or types of events we can host versus what they can host. We're very different in terms of our organizational budget size, and our staff size. And we've got beautiful St. Paul RiverCentre. It's a great convention center. But you could fit multiple RiverCentres into the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Q: What's the pitch?

A: They will get more attention here. They will be the main event at RiverCentre rather than at a bigger venue, where they might be one of three.

Q: What are some longstanding St. Paul events?

A: We have the iconic Minnesota State High School sporting tournaments. Boys hockey, girls hockey, gymnastics, volleyball, wrestling. We have some good annual convention groups that hold their events here. The Minnesota Dental Association every year brings their state conference. Leading Age is a big conference. We are super excited that we were selected for the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which is a huge event, beginning December 2025. We're gearing up for now and it's just gonna be awesome for the state as a whole.

We have over the last several years really focused on really amazing family attractions and amenities, what we call Tots in Tow, for a family that might have small kids with them and might be looking for things like the Science Museum, the Children's Museum and Como Zoo. We have a group we look at called the Urban Explorer, people who are looking for a city experience with a mix of the outdoors. We know we're not Duluth, right, or we're not like the Boundary Waters, right? But we do have really great natural amenities. So the person who maybe wants to get out and kayak on the Mississippi and then go to a brewery or a great restaurant after.

And then we also have with all of our sports teams, you know, that kind of weekend visitor. Much of our targeting is around the visitor who could, you know, make the drive here within a 300-mile radius. We are seeing increased attention from Chicago. Especially coming out of COVID, when everything became much closer to home, we're reaching out to Chicago, Milwaukee, Des Moines, as well as Duluth, Fargo and the region.

Q: Your 2023 annual report says future bookings are up, with 55,956 future room nights, an increase of 8% from 2022, with an estimated economic impact of $41.3 million. Will that growth continue?

A: Yes. We've seen events returning at venues like the Xcel Energy Center, the Ordway, the Palace Theatre and the RiverCentre. We are seeing in our hotel numbers that people are coming for those events.

Q: What do you need to overcome to get more people to visit St. Paul?

A: You know, we just had our tourism celebration and we talked about often we are getting most in our own way — not being willing to be out there and saying, "Hey, this is a great place." It was kind of funny to say [in the past], "Keep St. Paul boring." So this campaign that we're launching focuses on the fun side. Whether it's the spot you have every year for the high school tournament, or a trip to Como Zoo or the attractions downtown. There's a lot of stuff we just take for granted. But I'm passionate about promoting St. Paul.