Walz selects ex-SBA executive as new DEED commissioner

(ABC 6 News) – Nearly three months after the head of Minnesota’s job creation agency left for a new role, his replacement has been announced.

Governor Tim Walz appointed Matt Varilek to serve as Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development. Varilek will replace Kevin McKinnon, who has been serving as temporary commissioner since March.

“From strengthening the economy and communities of Greater Minnesota to advocating for small businesses on the federal level, Matt Varilek brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new role driving our state’s economy forward,” said Governor Walz. “I look forward to working with him to grow Minnesota’s strong, vibrant, and diverse economy and support our workers and businesses.”

“Matt Varilek is a steady, thoughtful leader who brings tremendous experience driving economic development and prosperity in diverse communities across the state,” said Lieutenant Governor Flanagan. “Having partnered with him to advance family economic security and child care in the past, I am confident in Matt’s ability to work within and across communities – from Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities to our tribal nations – to build a more equitable and inclusive economy that works for all Minnesotans.”

“Having grown up in a lower-income household, I’m passionate about helping more people enjoy greater economic prosperity,” said Matt Varilek. “I’m deeply grateful to Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan for the opportunity to join the talented team at DEED at this pivotal moment. The department has just been entrusted with an unprecedented set of tools and resources, and I’m eager to help put them to work for the benefit of businesses, workers, and families across Minnesota.”

Matt Varilek is the president of the Initiative Foundation. Previously, Varilek was the chief operating officer for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), a regional administrator for U.S. SBA Region VIII, and a candidate for congress for the at-large district of South Dakota. Varilek was also an economic development director and speechwriter for the offices of U.S. Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson and served as the director of policy and research for Natsource LLC. Varilek earned his B.A. from Carleton College, his M.Phil. in economic development from the University of Glasgow, and his M.Phil. in environment and development from the University of Cambridge. Varilek will start as Commissioner on June 20.

“Matt brings an incredible background for this role, including experience with state and federal policy, deep relationships in business, nonprofits and foundations, and an important perspective from rural Minnesota,” said Minnesota Council on Foundations President Susie Brown. “I’m so pleased that Minnesota’s philanthropic community has a strong and positive relationship with Commissioner Varilek. We look forward to working with him and the DEED team to support Minnesota’s economic development opportunities.”

“Matt Varilek is a true leader and a consistent champion for businesses in Greater Minnesota,” said Joe Nayquonabe, Commissioner of Corporate Affairs for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. “He was a driving force behind the Enterprise Academy program within the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy and as CEO of the Initiative Foundation, he led a convening of other foundations across the state, promoting a ‘better together’ mentality. I’m confident he’ll bring that same leadership to the office of DEED and create an environment of innovation and growth.”

“When I served as board chair of the Initiative Foundation, I got to see Matt’s steady and inclusive leadership style in action – welcoming diverse voices and helping to find a direction everyone could feel good about,” said Wyoming Machine, Inc. Co-President Traci Tapani. “As a business owner, I’m excited that he brings extensive knowledge of workforce development, small business lending, and other issues that are important to businesses, large and small. Matt is exceptionally well equipped to work productively with the business community as DEED’s next leader, and I congratulate Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan on a great choice.”