Fresh off 16 years working her way up the food chain in the private sector, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's newest leader looks to apply these skills in a way that balances the needs of business with environmental protections.
Commissioner Laura Bishop's been on the job since January. It's the first public sector job of any kind she's held in the last 16 years, a long time since she served in former Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration in the early aughts. In the meantime, she said she carved a place for herself in the executive structure of Best Buy, working as the chief sustainability and corporate responsibility officer for the tech giant.
"For me it wasn't necessarily going to Best Buy because I love electronic consumer products," Bishop told the Dispatch during a recent sit-down. "I do, but it was because I thought I could be part of a major company that's on the cusp of every community and their environmental impact throughout the state. This is our treasure and our future."
Before her stint in Ventura's government, Bishop sported a career in public service with stops at the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland.
On a more personal note, Bishop spoke fondly of a childhood spent, in part, at a family cabin by Aitkin, where she discovered an appreciation for Minnesota's natural wilderness long predating the pillared halls of St. Paul and Washington, D.C.
These experiences look to be a valuable asset going forward, Bishop said, and she added it's one of the main reasons Gov. Tim Walz brought her aboard this year. The MPCA monitors environmental health, offers technical and financial assistance, enforces environmental regulations and performs preventative or cleanup initiatives throughout Minnesota.
"While Minnesota is a leader in combating climate change, we still have work to do to build a sustainable future," Walz stated in a news release announcing the appointment earlier this year. "Laura Bishop is a proven coalition builder, with decades of experience in the corporate and public affairs sectors. As the chief sustainability and corporate responsibility officer for Best Buy, Laura knows how to build coalitions and implement solutions that are good for the environment and good for business-because it isn't one or the other."
While the MPCA counts about 75 percent of its staff as scientists and related fields, Bishop's goal is to bridge the gap between government regulators and private businesses throughout the state in what she hopes will be a proactive, cooperative and effective marriage.
Much of the issue lies in confusing or difficult regulatory hurdles for businesses to honor, she said, if those stipulations are communicated at all. If communities are going to address pressing issues of water quality, waste disposal, mining, landfill containment and others, she said, then they need to be included more in what the MPCA does.
"It's part of the process, but we're not going out to the communities, we're not asking the communities," Bishop said. "So, for me, we need a broader outreach plan that isn't just the media, or just government, but the neighborhoods and other (nongovernmental organizations), the chambers of commerce-getting more engagement."
Her stop at the Dispatch-just one of many throughout the state in what amounted to something of a tour, Bishop said-was done in that spirit.
Bishop-speaking as a recent private sector executive-noted she didn't agree with sentiments that environmental state agencies like the MPCA can be uncooperative, demanding or abuse their authority with local entities or businesses. Instead, she pointed to a lack of communication and engagement as an area where both sides come away feeling dissatisfied.
"If a company understands what's expected of them and that the communication is clear and the timeline is right in front of them, clear and one they can meet, that works well for both sides," Bishop said. "Most companies want certainty."