After more than a decade of productive leadership at the helm of one of Minnesota’s most influential and respected public policy organizations, Dane Smith is announcing plans to retire as president of Growth & Justice by early 2018. Board of Directors Chair Kim Lowe will lead a board search in the next few months for a new president.
“It is a great privilege to lead this high-minded and constructive organization,” Smith said. “And I intend to stay very involved in a different role, supporting Growth & Justice and its many partners as we move Minnesota toward a more sustainable and fairer economy. Business leaders and social justice advocates agree that our future competitiveness really does depend on erasing racial disparities, restoring our middle-class, and closing the rural-metro divide.”
“I joined the Board of Growth & Justice just as Dane was taking the reins,” Lowe said. “He has been a steady and impactful leader for the organization, and an absolute treasure for the State of Minnesota and those who embrace our state’s mainstream progressive tradition. His leadership has positioned Growth & Justice well for now and in the future.”
Smith’s decade at Growth & Justice caps a previous 30-year career as newspaper journalist, covering politics and public policy at the Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the Minneapolis Star. In 2007, Smith retired from newspapering to join Growth & Justice. Smith has overseen major accomplishments and initiatives during his decade at the helm of Growth & Justice.
• Helped found the Invest in Minnesota coalition, comprised of faith, labor and non-profit groups; led the fight every year for ample public resources for investment in human capital and physical infrastructure, and for a less regressive state-local tax system; helped roll back big tax breaks for top- income households while increasing low-income credits and deductions. Minnesota now benefits from a stable budget, restored reserve funds and projected surpluses, rather than chronic and chaotic budget shortfalls of the early 2000s.
• Launched the Smart Investments in Minnesota’s Students project and published a major report in 2008 that began to move the state toward a more holistic, birth-to-career education system; the project identified specific evidence-tested interventions that help students succeed, including more investment in early childhood education, and moving toward post-secondary credentials rather than high-school graduation as a primary goal; and G&J helped influence the drafting of the “World’s Best Workforce” K-12 education bill of 2013.
• Partnered with other statewide groups in early 2017 to launch the “Minnesota Rural Equity Project” with a goal of creating an inclusive “One Minnesota” framework, identifying statewide public policies and best local community efforts to improve economic vitality and reduce disparities in Greater Minnesota.
• Helped found the annual John Brandl Celebration, bringing together an eclectic partnership of policy groups with differing viewpoints to highlight areas of common ground between conflicting ideologies.
• Became an early member and champion of the MinneMinds coalition, which helped secure hundreds of millions of dollars and a historic statewide expansion of early childhood investment, focusing on targeted scholarships for low-income families as well as more universal access to pre-K programs in public schools.
• Helped persuade the Minnesota Legislature in 2015 to set an official goal for post-secondary completion, of 70 percent of young adults earning a post-secondary credential by the year 2025, and closing racial disparities in attainment; led a partnership of a half-dozen groups in a remarkable “Hungry for Equity” convening at St. Paul College in 2016, convening students of color to identify challenges and solutions to higher-ed disparities.
• In early 2016, became a key player in the formation of an urban-rural Education Partnerships Coalition, a statewide network of comprehensive educational initiatives that emphasize local solutions and results-based accountability to close the opportunity gap. The coalition secured first-in-the-nation state funding for such partnerships. The coalition includes the Northside Achievement Zone, the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood and highly organized efforts in Austin, Northfield, Red Wing, and St. Cloud.
• Established G&J as one of the state’s most persistent voices warning about the peril to business growth posed by racial disparities and by overall widening economic inequality between those at the top and households in the middle and lower-income brackets. Reports in 2013 outlined inequality trends for the state and the nation, and a 2015 report highlighted the gaps between Minnesota regions and counties.
• In 2014, launched a project, Workforce Equity for a Competitive Economy, that identified best practices and emerging new partnerships that help chronically under-employed adults quickly acquire post-secondary credentials and livable wage jobs. Minnesota has begun funding these Career Pathway partnerships between employers, non-profit social service providers and higher-ed institutions.
• Established G&J as a voice for accountability in government, and innovation and redesign of public-sector, private-sector and non-profit systems. G&J has supported creative new experiments such as public benefit corporations and new ways to efficiently deliver public goods and services.
• Raised more than $5 million in funding for the organization over the decade from thousands of donors and more than a dozen major community and corporate foundations, including Blandin, McKnight, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, Bremer, Jay & Rose Phillips, RKMC, Martin & Brown, Minneapolis, Cargill, and Travelers.
• Featured by Twin Cities Business magazine in 2013 as one the region’s “Most Dynamic Business and Policy Leaders.”
• Published more than 250 op-eds and commentaries for mainstream news media and online publications; produced or supervised dozens of white papers and major research reports on education, workforce readiness, transportation, economic inequality, health-care, and tax-and-budget issues; frequently authored or co-authored the featured commentary on the cover of the Sunday Star Tribune’s Op-Ex section.
• Delivered presentations outlining policy priorities to hundreds of community groups, ranging from Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, to church groups, to large conventions of statewide associations.
“We can’t possibly take sole or even primary credit for moving Minnesota toward more practical and equitable policy,” Smith said. “But I know we are an important catalyst. And this organization is poised to continue that role well into the future, maintaining Minnesota’s distinctive character as a prosperous place with communitarian values, a state where we all do better, because we ALL do better.
The Growth & Justice’s board of directors is beginning a search to fill Dane’s large shoes. Lowe says Growth & Justice is looking for candidates who are experienced in non-partisan public policy research and advocacy, committed to a more equitable society for Minnesota, and qualified to manage a non-profit organization. Persons interested in applying can review the job description and send inquiries or resumes and letters of interest to Kim Lowe at firstname.lastname@example.org or Matt Byrne at email@example.com.