What kinds of state policies, public investments, business incentives, and local initiatives will work best to strengthen Greater Minnesota communities, revitalize local economies, and reduce inequality, poverty, and racial disparity?
That question has risen to the top in Minnesota’s public policy debate, amid evidence of stagnation in rural regions and a widening metro-rural divide in the state and nation. Answering the question will be the focus of a new “Minnesota Rural Equity Project” led by Growth & Justice, and in formal partnership with the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition and the Greater Minnesota Partnership. The project will be supported in part through a generous grant from the Blandin Foundation.
“This project will seek constructive, non-partisan and non-ideological solutions that help improve the socio-economic condition of Greater Minnesota and bridge the gaps between rural and Twin Cities interests,” said Dane Smith, president of Growth & Justice. “We know we will find areas of bipartisan statewide agreement for policies that improve rural infrastructure, enhance our investments in education and health care, provide tax credits and other mechanisms that build assets for low-income families and households of color, and ease disparities in an increasingly diverse Greater Minnesota.” Growth & Justice, founded in 2002, is a policy research and advocacy group with a statewide perspective. It seeks sustainable business growth and a broader prosperity throughout Minnesota, through smart investments in human capital and infrastructure, and by reducing economic inequality and erasing racial disparities.
Minnesota Rural Equity Project activities will include: convenings and listening sessions, research and mapping of challenges and opportunities, development of a broad state-local policy agenda, advocacy for those policies and best practices, and communication, media outreach and story-telling that advances promising initiatives already underway. (See our recent MinnPost commentary on “Grow Our Own,” in southwestern Minnesota, and this Star Tribune Op-Ex section commentary, “The High Road to `Better Together’.”)
Collaborating organizations in the project include some of the state’s most influential and authentic voices from Greater Minnesota, including city government officials, business developers, and advocates for low-income households.
The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) represents 88 city governments, of all sizes, from Biwabik to Rochester, and in every region of the state. The coalition’s mission is “to develop viable, progressive communities for businesses and families through strong economic growth and good local government.” CGMC supports fair property taxes, good land use planning, sensible environmental regulation, a balanced transportation system, and effective economic development tools to meet that goal. Bradley Peterson, CGMC’s executive director, says that “basic civic infrastructure is essential for business growth and community health, and Greater Minnesota cities are key providers of this connective tissue. Our communities are feeling the pinch after years of stagnant local government aid and a lack of resources available to fix crumbling city streets or upgrade outdated water treatment plants. The Minnesota Rural Equity Project will help bring these issues to light and help address the needs of rural communities.”
The Greater Minnesota Partnership (GMNP) is a nonprofit corporation advocating for state economic development policies and resources that benefit Greater Minnesota. The Partnership consists of businesses, chambers of commerce, economic development authorities, cities and nonprofits from rural regions. “Stimulating more robust economic development in Greater Minnesota depends on a complex set of factors,” says Dan Dorman, GMNP executive director. “For example, businesses in Greater Minnesota need a skilled workforce in order to be successful and thrive, but workers are reluctant to move to rural communities due to a serious shortage of housing. We look forward to working with the Minnesota Rural Equity Project’s partners and overcoming these barriers to economic growth.”
The Minnesota Asset Building Coalition advocates for policies that help financially fragile Minnesotans build wealth and climb the economic ladder. Comprised of 140 member organizations from rural, suburban, and urban communities across Minnesota, MABC operates under the shared principle of embedding racial, ethnic, and geographical equity and inclusion into organizational development, issue development, and policy advocacy. “Communities become stronger and local economies thrive when families have opportunities to build assets,” says MABC Legislative Advocate Anna Odegaard. “Our members across the state understand the barriers families face as they struggle to save, and they know the specific opportunities that would benefit their communities the most, from affordable transportation to small business support. The Rural Equity Project recognizes that all Minnesotans deserve opportunities to invest in a brighter future, but that communities face different challenges, so policy solutions need to address the diversity of our communities across the state.”