Erik Skogquist was born and raised in Anoka, Minnesota, a town of almost 20,000 people on the northern suburban outskirts of Minneapolis. He earned a Political Science and Urban Studies degree from the University of Minnesota. Erik returned to his hometown when he decided to serve his community and raise a family in the town he loved and valued. He appraises and assesses properties in the Anoka area and actively volunteers in the community with his wife, Amanda, also a native of Anoka. Together they volunteer in a formidable array of community functions: On the PTO, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, T-ball, and various civic boards. Erik followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Bjorn, who was elected mayor of Anoka at the age of 22, to run for office. Erik currently serves on the City Council of Anoka.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
It started when I was in high school when my brother became the mayor of the town of Anoka, Minnesota, at the age of 22. That’s when I became aware of local government, becoming actively involved and trying to understand it. He was mayor for eight years, until he was 30 years old. I was finishing high school and then going through college and during that time I learned a lot about how government functions and also what government actually does, how politicians operated ¬– for good and for bad. It was a general education about how everything happened, and it happened while I was going to school for political science and also city planning-type work.
Local government really affects your life the most of any of the levels of government, and I really have no desire to do anything beyond that. I have seen a void in certain types of ideas and opinions that I think need to be represented on our city council. That’s why I decided to step up and run a couple of years ago.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day starts off with helping my kids in the morning to get ready for school. Then I focus on my day job. Sometimes that means working from home, sometimes that means traveling. My work for the city gets intertwined into everything. Some days there’s very little to do, just answer some emails or make some phone calls. It’s so sporadic. I can make it work but not everybody can and that’s another reason I think fewer people are involved in local government.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Is it an idea that I came up with or is it something that someone presented to me? Either way, the first thing is to see if other people are interested in the idea. I reflect on whether the idea has merit, and whether I need to talk to people and get different perspectives because I know my thoughts represent only one point of view. If something is going to be successful it’s going to need to have appeal to a variety of different people.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Anoka is an interesting town. It’s an old town that has kind of been taken over by the metropolitan area of Minneapolis over the last 15-20 years, and now it’s a suburb. It’s an interesting hybrid city that has changed over the years and become a hub outside of a major downtown, a secondary hub, if you can call it that. It’s got life and energy to it, and people are moving into Anoka because they want to be here, not because its affordable or they grew up here. The more people that come here that are energetic and want to be involved with the city the better, because they’re bringing a life and a vibrancy to a town where it kind of disappeared for a while as it was going through a transition. I think it has been cool and exciting to see more businesses and people and events and activities and life happen in the city. All this is on hold because of COVID but hopefully once things loosen up a little, we’ll get back in that direction.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
One thing I try to do is stop everything, sit quietly, and just think about everything that’s been going on. It’s really easy to get momentum in a certain direction and let your energy take you places without thinking critically about the whole picture. I think it’s important for me. Sometimes I just sit in the car without the radio on, or at night, after the kids have gone to bed, I take a moment to just sit and think about everything. If I do that enough times, I think it helps me come to a relatively reasonable conclusion that gets rid of as many pitfalls as possible and make things a lot clearer.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Patience. It’s hard to not have something go the right way, but what I started to see as I got older is that you have to realize that sometimes the timing is off, and you have to approach things differently or wait for certain things to change, and then maybe an idea that didn’t work before will work later. Just be cognizant that with time conditions can become more favorable to achieve what you want. Life experience is the only thing that can help bring this clarity.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think the natural environment of a city, including its trees and its landscaping, is just as important as its built environment. People talk about the importance of streets and buildings in an older city, but having big, mature trees is also important, too. People think of that as a replaceable resource; you can take them out and plant a new one and it will all grow back. But that’s not really the case. It takes a long time for those trees to mature and to get to the level that they were. Not a lot of people would jump up and say that’s absolutely the case, but I think a 100-year-old tree is just as important as a cool, architecturally unique house. That’s one of the things I stand up for. Maybe others will call me a tree hugger, but so be it. There might be more people that agree with me than not, but I think few people will come out and be willing to say it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I float ideas by different people and get their viewpoints. If it doesn’t seem like it’s going to pan out or have any energy behind it, then I don’t put the time into it. I’m not going to forget the idea, but maybe I don’t pursue it until some point in the future. But if it’s beneficial and people seem interested in it, I start to think about the best avenue to make it happen. Sometimes government is the answer, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s an outside group or an individual. I have those conversations with other stakeholders to see how to take it forward. From there I guess you have to see how it plays out. Some ideas are very promising, and some aren’t. That’s just part of trying out different ideas.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Being friendly and upfront with people. Talking to them and being relatable. It’s something a lot of people say about me that took a long time for me to notice about myself. I’m told I’m always good at making connections with others that I’m talking to. I naturally do that well, and it helps people to let their guard down, makes them more approachable, and able to talk about things with a level of trust between people that helps with mutual understanding.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I lost my temper with some staff members for doing something counter to a plan that we had. That didn’t end up going as well as I’d have liked. Instead of dealing with the issue that I was concerned about, it came back on me for how I was upset with them and how I interacted with them. I did not put my best foot forward in that situation by any means. As I’m trying to get past it, it’s been important that I step back and try to be as humble as I can about the faults I showed in that situation. I try to be open and honest with people and try to come up with solutions to prevent this from happening again in the future. I want to always use critical thinking and think about how the other person was feeling and how we can get past a difficulty in communicating.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One of my biggest concerns is to continue to help make the city successful in all aspects, which means having businesses doing well and real estate value that’s positive. I think continuing to have more and different events in the city is huge to help create life, energy and activity that supports those aspects. Sometimes coming up with new ideas to help promote tourism and related economic activity is tricky, but the one thing the city needs to continue to do is to be an asset to outside groups wanting to use our city for activities. We can do this by making permitting simple, providing staffing to some extent, and increasing infrastructure. If those events are successful, then people in our city can be more successful, too. We really need to go all in on that.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I spent roughly $100 on Thanksgiving for just my immediate family. We’ve traditionally done multiple Thanksgiving celebrations with different sides of the family, but we’ve never been ones to host anything. In light of what’s going on with COVID I wanted to do the full Thanksgiving spread, to spend the money and even if we wound up having a bunch of extra food to just make it a regular event for me and my wife and my kids. I think it was really beneficial. We got to spend a lot of time together and have some normalcy in a not-so-normal world, and it all turned out pretty darned good, too! It made us slow down and enjoy ourselves. I was really happy with doing that.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Social media. I haven’t used it as fully as I could have and it has a lot of negatives to it but it has really been a great way to interact with people and stay in touch in a way you wouldn’t have been able to before. It’s also a great way for me to share my ideas for things that are going on in the city to get them out to a broader audience.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I like a lot of non-fiction, but I’ve also enjoyed classic novels. I just finished reading Treasure Island with my eight-year-old son, and it’s a really fun book that I remember from when I was about eight myself. It took me months to get through because as an eight-year-old it’s a lot to get through. Reading it with my kid it let me see things through a different set of eyes, to get out of my reality bubble, and do something fun. Treasure Island is your prototypical pirate adventure book that takes a little of the seriousness out of life.
What is your favorite quote?
“Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.” – George Washington
• Dedicated to the City of Anoka and want to make it a better place for myself and my family
• Diverse perspectives help create a better product in the end
• Communication and feedback gathering with the community is critical in making progress
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.