MINNEAPOLIS, JUNE 2 -- When Mikhail Gorbachev arrives in Minnesota shortly before 1:30 Sunday afternoon, he will undertake an intense seven-hour course in the art of capitalism. This is not just some romantic excursion into the American heartland. Money -- how to make it, use it, trade it, sell it and spread it around in a relatively free market -- is what the Soviet president's visit to the Twin Cities is all about.
From the smoked-glass windows of his Zil limousine as he departs Gov. Rudy Perpich's residence in St. Paul after lunch, Gorbachev will see tens of thousands of Minnesotans waving at him with white "Gorbachiefs." The hankies, going for three bucks each, offer Lesson No. 1 for the communist leader: How to recycle a good old-fashioned capitalist idea. The "Gorbachiefs" are actually leftover and redesigned "Homer Hankies" that Minnesota Twins baseball fans waved during the 1987 World Series. Their sales by the host committee will help defray costs of the unofficial visit. They were made in -- China.
Minnesotans take particular pride in their skills at global salesmanship and for more than two decades, corporations based here ranging from Cargill, the grain giant, to Control Data, the mainframe computer maker, have patiently built trade relationships with the Soviets. They see the Gorbachev visit as the culmination of that work, both a symbolic opening of a new era of free trade and a practical opportunity to provide Gorbachev some free-market money tips.
"We seem to mirror in a small place everything that the Soviets need for perestroika to be successful," said David J. Speer, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development. "In moving from a controlled economy to a market economy, they're looking for models that work. That's Minnesota. We play ice hockey, we have the same climate, similar agriculture and the sorts of computer and medical technology that they need most."
"If arms control is yesterday's story and economics is the key factor today, then in many ways these few hours in Minnesota are the centerpiece for Gorbachev's entire trip," argued Al Eisele, a Washington lobbyist from Minnesota whose behind-the-scenes work for Control Data and Perpich paved the way for the Twin Cities visit.
The most dramatic evidence that the dollar sign is the symbol of the Minnesota trip will come late Sunday afternoon when Gorbachev meets with business leaders in downtown Minneapolis. At first the session was to be for Minnesotans. Then regional executives were included. Now the final guest list is a Who's Who of American industry, from the auto kings, Lee Iacocca and Roger Smith, to the soft-drink barons, Donald R. Keough and Roger Enrico, to H.R. Haldeman of the Radisson Corp., which happens to be not only the host hotel for the meeting but also the developer of a new hotel in Moscow.
Among all the businessmen are just two businesswomen, one Elizabeth Garst of the Raccoon Valley State Bank, a grandaughter of the late Roswell Garst, the Coon Rapids, Iowa, farmer who hosted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during his 1959 U.S. tour.
The give-and-take in this business round table originally was going to be closed to the news media, but late Friday it was decided to allow live television coverage. Although Dwayne Andreas of Archer Daniels Midland Co. will serve as host, everyone expects Gorbachev to run the show.
Since the trip to Minnesota -- Gorbachev's first foray as the Soviet leader into middle America -- is not an official state visit, the entire agenda is essentially the guest's call. Every idea that Perpich and his host committee came up with had to be checked out and approved by the Soviets, a difficult process not completed until early today.
After his midday activities, Gorbachev will visit the dairy farm of Richard and Cecilia Brand in Empire Township south of St. Paul, and end the day with a stop at Control Data headquarters, to inspect CYBER 960 mainframe computers. The company recently negotiated a contract to sell six of the computers to the Soviets for civilian nuclear power plants in Obninsk, Moscow, Podolsk and Gorki.
If the sale is allowed by the U.S. government, the computers will be the most powerful exported to the Soviet Union from the West.
Lawrence Perlman, president and chief executive officer of Control Data, said he views the Soviet Union as an enormous, virtually untapped market for American business, although as almost everywhere else, U.S. firms face stiff competition from the Germans and Japanese.
"We've got to get over the view that trade with the Soviets is going to be a one-way street," Perlman said. "I know it's hard to visualize a Russian salesman -- that's not something that leaps to mind. But there are a number of business leaders here who share my view that the Soviets have things to sell."
Walter Amastas, a St. Paul lawyer who grew up in the Ukraine and supports Ukrainian sovereignty, argued that Perlman's view is unrealistic.
"I hope my fellow Minnesotans are not too disappointed when they realize that Mr. Gorbachev is coming with requests but no money," Amastas said. "He won't buy anything more than a $1.59 hamburger. He is one of 288 million Soviets consumers with no money. I'm afraid the hopes placed on his visit are completely out of tune with reality."
Amastas marched around the fountain of the Hennepin County Government Center Friday afternoon carrying a Ukrainian flag in a protest rally by a few dozen Ukrainian immigrants and 150 Minnesotans of Baltic heritage. On Sunday, during the Gorbachev visit, the crowd of protesters is expected to be larger, with several busloads of Latvians and Lithuanians driving up from Chicago to voice their displeasure with Gorbachev's handling of the Baltic states' bid for independence.
But Minnesota authorities expect the throngs greeting Gorbachev to be large and friendly. "In terms of public interest, this is as large as anything we've seen," said Ray Bohn, Perpich's director of communications. Eisele, who once worked for former vice president Walter F. Mondale, said he could not imagine Minnesotans treating Gorbachev rudely. "Minnesota," he said, "is where the word nice was invented."
The main opportunity Minnesotans will have to see the Soviet president will come between the luncheon in St. Paul and the business meeting in Minneapolis. Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, will take a lesiurely drive from one event to the other in what is billed as a "Tour of the Twin Cities" -- down Summit Avenue, around the state Capitol, west along I-94, past the flashing traffic signs that read "Minnesota and USSR, Partners in Progress," over the Mississippi River, which now features a geographic marker in Russian, and on toward Seventh Street in downtown Minneapolis.
Law enforcement authorities are preparing for sidewalk crowds of a half-million or more. The Gorbachev visit committee is ready for an onslaught of 7,000 members of the news media, which averages out to 1,000 journalists per hour for the Minnesota leg. If nothing else, Minnesota will get its moment of worldwide exposure: The arrival will be prime time in the Soviet Union.
Last week, commissioner Speer joked that Minnesota is seeking "most favored state" status.
The next morning he got a call from Boris Malakhov, a Soviet press official in the Washington embassy. "David, David, David," Malakhov said. "I saw you on television. You said Minnesota wants to be "most favored state." You are most favored state already."