FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — A new attraction at the State Fair this year is not aiming to draw in thrill seekers, or even fans of food on a stick. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis said its first-ever State Fair booth is helping introduce the regional bank to thousands of Minnesotans at a time many people are concerned about the economy.
The Minneapolis Fed has several dozen square feet of real estate tucked away in the Education Building on the east side of the fairgrounds.
And officials are hawking a product that’s sure to garner attention.
“Free money! How often do you get free money? Genuine U.S. currency,” barked Karmi Mattson, who manages public programs for the regional bank.
Too good to be true? Yup.
It’s not spendable cash that the Fed’s giving away at the fair.
“In fact, it’s shredded,” Mattson said.
She said the Federal Reserve Bank's first-ever State Fair presence is not a reaction to President Trump’s frequent criticism that the institution has been slow to act to help the economy. Mattson said they hatched the State Fair idea before Donald Trump won the presidency.
“We have been on a waiting list for a booth at the fair for three years,” Mattson said.
She said the goal is to teach Minnesotans about what the Fed does.
“We know that a lot of folks out there don’t understand the mission of the Fed and all of our many activities. So, we’re just hear to raise a little bit of awareness,” Mattson said.
Fed officials say they often are asked, “Is now a good time to refinance my house?”
Visitors to the fair booth learn that the Federal Reserve System — of which the Minneapolis Fed is just a part — sets interest rates, manages the currency, including destroying worn bills, and oversees banks.
Mattson is hoping that fairgoers who stop by the booth will take up the Fed's offer to tour its facilities in downtown Minneapolis to learn even more about the Fed.
Peter Andersen, 80, of St. Paul, visited the booth and learned the Federal Reserve System is divided into twice as many districts as the six he thought existed.
Unlike President Trump, who’s likened Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jay Powell to an enemy, Andersen has a favorable opinion of the central bank and its mission.
“They monitor money, and they watch interest rates, and watch over the economy and make sure inflation is not over done,” Andersen said. “I think they do a good job and they need to remain separate. The president should not, in my opinion, have any influence on the Fed.”
In addition to getting a free bag of finely shredded currency, visitors to the Fed booth can spin a big trivia wheel for a chance to win a Fed fanny pack.
Maggie Catambay, 79, landed on a question about the average daily value of the electronic transfers the Fed handles for banks.
The Fed staffer operating the wheel offered some options — $1.3 billion, $10.3 billion and $103 billion.
Catambay went with the latter, the correct answer.
She, too, said she has no beef with the Federal Reserve. She thinks Trump's attacks on the Fed for not lowering interest rates more are for personal reasons.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s all about Trump and Trump’s money and Trump’s debts,” Catambay said, adding it’s a good idea for the Minneapolis bank to raise its profile with a State Fair booth.
“You can never have enough information. I learned that from MPR,” she laughed.
Karmi Mattson said Catambay and Andersen are typical of visitors, so far.
She said she and her colleagues are not getting any pushback from fairgoers.
“We’re seeing quite the opposite. A lot of support,” Mattson said. “People thanking us for what we do, thanking us for being here.”
This story originally appeared at: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/08/28/minneapolis-fed-debuts-at-state-fair-amid-economic-turmoil