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Companies pay for RNC presence

MINNEAPOLIS -- Even chicken tenders, those finger-sized appetizers, come with a sponsor.

In and around the Republican National Convention, Minnesota businesses are finding ways to promote their products.

Some provide services at the convention in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, others sponsor events for state delegations. Some landed contracts to sell food to convention delegates and beverages to protesters.

Still others paid thousands to sponsor AgNite, a large convention-related party that brought together the agriculture and food industries and several thousand invited guests, and featured 1970s-era rock band Styx and plenty of food and booze.

Minnesota companies view the convention as a rare advertising and promotions opportunity. Not only has the convention brought some 45,000 people - or potential customers and clients -- to the Twin Cities, it's the center of political power for four days.

And nights. As the convention was winding to a close Tuesday, AgNite was just getting started. The nonpartisan organization Agri-Growth Council hosted the party intended to showcase the agriculture and food industries. The event was as much about farms and food as it was about mingling and music.

Fifty-five companies and organizations kicked in to sponsor AgNite. CHS, a Minnesota-based energy and agribusiness firm, paid $75,000 to be one of five "platinum sponsors." For that it got prominent visibility in the Minneapolis hall and other advertising.

It was important from a corporate citizen standpoint to be involved in AgNite, said Jim Bareksten, governmental affairs director for CHS. The company had employees roaming the hall, talking with elected officials and others invited to the party.

"A lot of it is being a good citizen," he said. "Nonetheless, there is advertising."

Bareksten said it is tough to determine whether the money spent to be part of the event will pay off in the long run.

"There's some value," he said. "What it is - who knows?"

Business leaders say it is rare for Minnesota companies to have a niche advertising goldmine like a national political convention in their own backyard. Many have seized on the opportunity.

"It helps us to feature our brand and what we're about," said Paul DeBriyn, president of AgStar, which provides agriculture-related loans and other financial services. "And it helps introduce us to some of the key leaders who have an impact on the policies that will have an effect on agriculture and the food industry."

There is a big corporate presence at the convention itself, perhaps the most obvious being Xcel Energy. Other local companies have a visible presence. For instance, Qwest Communications is serving as the convention's "official communications provider."

While convention organizers and journalists rely on the telecommunications and Internet services provided by Qwest, delegates can gorge themselves on food and drink - free of charge -- at receptions sponsored by local companies.

Medical firm Medtronic hosted a morning reception for Minnesota's delegation. The delegates were invited Wednesday afternoon to a reception put on by Xcel at an upscale Minneapolis restaurant.

Delegates attending the Xcel reception were to learn about the company's energy programs.

It's not clear whether convention-goers will remember some of the other Minnesota businesses paying to play this week. At AgNite, a small sign on a dessert table let guests know the cake they were enjoying was compliments of Schwan Food Co.

And those chicken tenders served at AgNite? Sponsored by Gold'n Plump.