A well-reasoned essay outlining what it really takes to build a stronger rural Minnesota was published Sunday July 29 on the cover of the Star Tribune’s Opinion Exchange section. The author is Jim Mulder, retired executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties and a Growth & Justice Policy Fellow. Mulder warned against regional and partisan divisiveness and outlined specific ideas for new public investment and improvements in our smallest towns and deep rural regions, which continue to lag behind the Twin Cities and regional centers on measures of both economic growth and social conditions. Mulder’s call for a new “Social Contract for Rural Minnesota’’ focused on: education, health care, housing, transportation, public infrastructure and economic development. He also urges paying attention to many community development needs at once, or playing “small ball’’ rather than trying to lure big new projects and employers with tax breaks and big giveaways. That framework aligns closely with our Thriving by Design convening in Granite Falls in June, and our ongoing effort to produce a “One Minnesota Equity Blueprint.’’ From Mulder’s op-ed: “My hope is that this election season will bring a discussion among citizens and candidates about a new ‘Social Contract for Rural Minnesota.’ It would be a vision of our state that honors the values and respects the contributions of each region of Minnesota and each and every person who lives there. It would mean a recognition among all candidates that partnering and collaborating with one another is the only way to brighten the prospects for all Minnesota.”
Our friends and followers tend to value serious policy analysis and are often interested in data and demographics and the details that drive public policy. For the wonkier among us, we highly recommend the new “Build Your Own Profile” tool, the latest innovation provided by the highly regarded Compass Project at the Wilder Center. The tool is a free resource that helps users choose Minnesota geographies or draw their own to get comparisons and contrasts. We conducted a quick test run, for instance, to compare regional diversity, and confirmed what we heard recently, that the city of Worthington, in rural southwestern Minnesota, is more racially diverse than Minneapolis (59 percent and 40 percent people of color, respectively). Check out this explanatory webpage for tips on how to use the tool and “choose your own data adventure!”
New details on the widening prevalence of our racial diversity in Minnesota was provided recently by MinnPost reporters Erin Hinrichs and Greta Kaul. From their article: “There are now 27 majority-minority school districts in Minnesota — double the number there was just five years ago. Today, nearly a quarter of students in public school districts in Minnesota are in majority-minority districts (underlined italics added)… Perhaps the most striking thing about the state’s increasingly diverse districts, however, isn’t just the number but how spread out they are. Twenty years ago, the state’s majority-minority districts were exactly where you might expect them to be: In Minneapolis, St. Paul and near American Indian reservations. Now, though, they’re also located in Twin Cities suburbs, and in places like St. Cloud, Willmar and Faribault — cities in corners of the state that have growing populations of immigrants and refugees from Latin America, Africa and Asia.”
“Our state can chase the Amazons of the world in the hopes of hitting the grand slam. But…with few exceptions, home runs are not an option for rural Minnesota. In rural Minnesota, we must play small ball, hitting away from the shift and sometimes sending a bunt down the third-base line. When we score, it may be one job at a time. In rural Minnesota, an increase of one, two or three jobs makes a difference.” -- Jim Mulder, retired executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas, and Policy Fellow for Growth & Justice, in Star Tribune article cited above.