MINNEAPOLIS -- First came the new number, 2000. Then came the relief when the lights and heat stayed on and water still flowed from the tap. Computers didn't crash and companies realized they could conduct business as usual.
But the year that started with a huge sigh of relief didn't stay that way long.
It was a year of out with the old and in with the new, with big consolidations in the energy, financial and food industries. And there were labor troubles.
One familiar name -- Northern States Power Co. -- would be lost forever as the utility merged with New Century Energies of Denver to form Xcel Energy, one of the 10 largest electricity and natural gas companies in the country. Headquarters were consolidated in Minneapolis so the loss was in name only.
Another company simply changed its name. Dayton Hudson Corp. became Target Corp. to reflect the more widely recognized brand name, the biggest division and the fastest-growing arm of Minneapolis-based company.
The state had a scare of a much bigger loss with American Airlines' pursuit of Northwest Airlines. Officials worried that Minneapolis-St. Paul would lose its airline hub and lots of daily flights. Those talks ended -- at least for now -- with no merger.
Minnesota did lose a large company headquarters when Dutch insurance and banking giant ING Group acquired ReliaStar Financial Corp. of Minneapolis for $5.1 billion.
In another financial merger, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp agreed to be acquired by Firstar Corp. of Milwaukee for about $19 billion in stock, creating the nation's ninth-largest bank holding company. But Minneapolis will be the company's headquarters after the deal closes early next year.
In another financial merger among Minnesota companies valued at $100 million, Stockwalk.com Group Inc. acquired Kinnard Investments Inc. and privately owned R.J. Steichen & Co.
There also were acquisitions and mergers in Minnesota's food industry.
General Mills Inc. announced in July that it would bring Minneapolis-based Pillsbury Co. back into the Minnesota fold. General Mills is buying Pillsbury from London-based food and drinks conglomerate Diageo PLC for $5 billion in stock and assuming $5.1 billion in Pillsbury debt.
But Minnesota lost a company headquarters in October when Houston-based Landry's Seafood Restaurant bought Rainforest Cafe of Hopkins for $75 million.
Merger mania also hit the entertainment industry, when bookstore giant Barnes & Noble Inc. acquired electronic games retailer Funco Inc. of Eden Prairie for $161.5 million in cash. And in December, Best Buy Co. Inc. announced that it would buy Musicland Inc. for about $425 million plus assumption of $260 million in debt.
On the labor front, Northwest Airlines again made headlines for much of the year. First it was troubles involving flight attendants, then mechanics.
Relations between Northwest and its 11,000 flight attendants were on rocky ground as the year began, and grew more tense after Northwest sued the union over an alleged sickout during the Christmas-New Year's holiday period. The airline fired 18 flight attendants for calling in sick and obtained a court order allowing the search of home computers of some flight attendants. An agreement on a new contract finally was reached in spring.
But five months later, the fur was flying again as Northwest negotiated a contract with mechanics and cleaners. Northwest took Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association to court, accusing the mechanics of conducting an illegal work slowdown over Thanksgiving weekend. Mechanics asked the National Mediation Board to declare contract talks at an impasse so the union could begin a 30-day countdown to a possible strike. Stay tuned.
In another hot labor dispute, eight workers from Mexico were fired by the Holiday Inn Express in Minneapolis and reported to the Immigration and Naturalization Service after they tried to form a union. An agreement was reached that allowed seven of the workers to stay in the United States for two years.
The year also was one of innovation.
Genmar Holdings Inc., the nation's second-largest powerboat maker, introduced a computer-controlled process for making fiberglass parts in a closed mold that enables the company to make fiberglass boats much more quickly. The technology was rolled out at the company's a new $20 million plant in Little Falls, where Genmar makes Larson and Glastron boats.
Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc. partnered with Dow Chemical Co. to begin commercial production of a durable "natural" plastic made from plants rather than petroleum. Cargill said the plant-based plastics and fibers perform as well as those made from nonrenewable hydrocarbons and can be used in a wide variety of items from clothing to food containers.
3M stopped production of some Scotchgard water- and oil-repellent products that contained perfluoro-octanyl chemistry because of environmental concerns, but was able to reformulate some of the products to replace the discontinued items. 3M also announced in December that General Electric Co. executive W. James McNerney Jr. would replace longtime Chief Executive L.D. DeSimone.
On the technology front, an alarm was sounded last spring that Minnesota start-ups were losing out in the race for venture capital money, perhaps threatening development of innovative products by many smaller companies. However, later surveys showed Minnesota was doing well in attracting money, with investments coming from corporations, investment bankers and individuals, as well as venture capitalists.
All in all, 2000 was a busy year, with ups and downs for the business community.
There was even a lighter side.
Minnesota's most famous lunch meat, Spam, was honored by the Library of Congress. A U.S. heritage exhibit featuring Spam, a product of Hormel Foods Corp. of Austin, was in place for the Library of Congress' 200th birthday in April.
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