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New Research Director, Thriving by Design, Solar Boom, and Action Alerts

Date Published: 05/18/2018

Author: Dane Smith

Kate Searls Joins Growth & Justice as Research Director 

We’re thrilled to have Kate Searls join the Growth & Justice team as our Research Director, bringing along 25 years of research, evaluation and policy analysis experience in a range of social welfare and business topics, including affordable housing, improved income mobility, racial equity, and product and service innovation. Kate was most recently at Catholic Charities of St. Paul & Minneapolis where she was the agency’s first Senior Policy Research Analyst.  At Growth & Justice, she will plan, coordinate, and disseminate our research and policy analysis efforts.  Previous to Catholic Charities, Kate worked on several projects focused on economic and labor interdependencies between urban and rural regions in Minnesota.  Kate will be updating those studies as part of our MN Rural Equity Project and the upcoming Thriving by Design – Rural & Urban Together gathering in June.

Minnesota Needs You!  Register Now for “Thriving by Design, Rural & Urban Together,” June 27-29, in Granite Falls

You are invited to attend, and your state needs you, at “Thriving by Design, Rural & Urban Together,” a statewide convening June 27-29 in the historic and scenic western Minnesota area in and around Granite Falls.  Registration is now open for this signature event of 2018. Damaging disparities – regional, racial, economic and environmental – threaten our long-term future in Minnesota.   We’re working on it, gathering the brainpower, heart power, and willpower of our fellow Minnesotans to develop a comprehensive new policy framework that strives for more equitable economic growth and climate action over the next decade.  Participants at the Thriving by Design gathering will create the beginnings of a unifying “One Minnesota Equity Blueprint,’’ a new social contract that heals our divisions:  the rural-metro divide, racial injustice, overall economic inequality and environmental degradation.  Registration options include participation as an official delegate in the June event and the six-month follow-up to gather community input, or as a general participant in the June event only.    More information on  “Thriving by Design, Rural & Urban Together,” is available on our website.    Our partner in this endeavor is OneMN.org, an organization focused statewide on building our “ethnic capital” and working toward racial equity in business and economic development.  Their motto -- “Building Shared Sustainable Prosperity’’ -- resonates strongly with our own mission statement.   Please help sponsor this effort and spread the word, even if you cannot attend.   

Solar Boom Demands Workforce Equity

A key provision among our 2018 legislative priorities is acceleration of the transformation already underway in Minnesota toward renewable energy and conservation.  An outstanding MinnPost article by Greta Kaul this week  underscored how solar demand is taking off, particularly in rural areas, but progress is hampered by a shortage of trained workers, especially electricians.   Meanwhile, we know that there are large numbers of underemployed workers, many of them low-income young adults of color, who lack post-secondary education attainment or vocational credentials.   These problems are made for each other and we urge state and local policy-makers to double down on workforce equity and post-secondary training that leads to livable wage jobs that are in highest demand.   Some voices in the article argue that state regulations need to be adjusted to permit more unlicensed electricians to do installing work, while others and on-line commenters argue that safety and quality would be compromised.  On one point, there is consensus:   “As fossil fuels fall behind both wind and solar on cost — even apart from social and environmental concern — Minnesota needs to stay ahead of the curve.’’ 

Action Alerts for Our Priorities

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition are our partners in the One Minnesota Rural Equity Project and they helped us design our 2017 and 2018 legislative priorities.    Each organization helps us keep track of how our priorities are faring and each issues action alerts to mobilize their members and partners as the legislative session progresses.   Recent key alerts about top priorities include the CGMC’s concerns about the fate of a bonding bill for $167 million in desperately needed water infrastructure in Greater Minnesota cities, and the MABC’s action alert to maintain pressure for progressive tax policy, including expansion of the Working Family Credit and Property Tax Refunds for low-income renters and homeowners.   We urge Growth & Justice supporters to call your legislators or other key decision-makers in response to these appeals.

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“By 2013, in 22 years of solar development, (our company) had cumulatively installed about two megawatts of solar power statewide. At the end of this year, five years later, it will be close to 100 megawatts, and we’ll have completed 35 community solar projects, the vast majority in rural areas.”  --  Eric Pasi, chief development officer at IPS Solar, in MinnPost article cited above.


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