A cold winter in Minnesota is a guarantee. Eric Dayton is a Minneapolis native that is determined to claim the identity as America’s north and celebrate the wonder that winter brings each year. “Calling our region ‘the North’ is more than a marketing strategy… It is a call to embrace the winter and the traditions that define our region,” explained Dayton.

Marketing Idea Leads to Winter Celebration

The idea for a celebration of winter began several years ago as Eric Dayton joined his brother in a few business endeavors. The Dayton brothers renovated a building in the North Loop neighborhood adjacent to downtown Minneapolis that is now home to several of their start-up businesses (The Bachelor Farmer, The Marvel Bar, and Askove Finlayson). “In 2013, through
Askove Finlayson, we had an idea to market our region as ‘the North’… we didn’t know if it would work, but the sales for our winter hats really took off,” said Dayton.

Momentum was building from this new market strategy, which led Eric Dayton to speak on the topic at TedxMinneapolis in 2015. “When people hear Minnesota, they think of the winter as
cold and scary… I do not see winter as something to sweep under the rug…It is our strength,” explained Dayton. This momentum led Dayton to research all of the winter happenings in the region and question if there was a way to combine all of these events together.

In the fall of 2015, Dayton arranged the meeting that led to the creation of The Great Northern, a 10-day celebration of winter. “I organized a meeting with the directors of all the winter events, the governor, state tourism department, representatives from both mayors’ offices (Minneapolis and St. Paul), and anyone with a shared interest in winter activities,” explained Dayton. At a minimum, the goal for Dayton was to raise awareness and introduce everyone who planned winter events in the region. However, what took place was an excitement to arrange a collaborative effort to emphasize the greatness of winter.

The Great Northern

The first 10-day celebration took place in late January and early February of 2017. The Great Northern has three signature events including the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, and the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival. The entire 10-day celebration is sponsored by Target. The Great Northern also provides programming throughout the 10-days of celebration. “In our first year, we had over 350,000 attendees between these three signature events and programming… we expect to see more in 2018 as our programming expands into food and public art,” said Dayton.

The Great Northern Team is set for its second year of winter celebration inspiring people to get outdoors, be active, and think positively about winter. “Along with identifying our region as ‘the North’ we have seen a positive impression for Minneapolis and St. Paul as they work together instead of competing,” explained Dayton. The collaboration of the signature events and the programming that spans the region is laying a foundation for the Great Northern for success in the years to come.

Learn more from Eric Dayton and the Great Northern as he speaks at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 at 9:15 a.m. at The Stage at Island Park.


Brent McNeal