Few state policy organizations are more focused than Growth & Justice on coalescing rural and urban communities around action that builds a more equitable and sustainable prosperity, erasing geographic and demographic disparities and accelerating climate action. And we’re excited to now be attracting attention from other states around this unifying theme. G&J President Jane Leonard was invited recently to deliver the opening remarks in Raleigh, North Carolina, for a statewide conference with the theme “ReCONNECT Rural and Urban.” In an 8-minute YouTube video of her presentation, she summarizes our Thriving By Design process and our emerging Minnesota Equity Blueprint as a “rural-urban socioeconomic contract that will help achieve an inclusive economy, a just society, and a vibrant democracy.’’ Leonard was appointed President of Growth & Justice in 2018, partly on the strength of her status as a nationally-known community development leader. She served as President of the international Community Development Society in the 1990s and is Program Chair this year for the Society’s 50th Anniversary Conference, in Missouri.
The latest data on workforce trends from Greater Minnesota provide grounds for optimism, and the numbers also make the case for more investment in human potential and welcoming immigrants and newcomers. The report by the Center for Rural and Policy Development shows that a severe workforce shortage is the top concern of employers in Greater Minnesota and that “there are few significant differences in employment when comparing urban and rural areas.’’ Among other key takeaways and headlines in the report: “The gap (between rural and metro) in median wages is closing…A growing number of open positions are full-time, offer health benefits, and require post-secondary education.” The CRPD offers three policy responses, already underway, and which Growth & Justice is also advocating: 1) tapping “hidden talent” pools, with a focus on engaging and developing the skills of Native American communities, people of color, those with disabilities, and people with criminal backgrounds. 2) increasing immigration and in-migration in an effort to recruit urban dwellers who might be interested in living in a rural area, marketing rural regions as great places to live and engaging with immigrant populations to develop welcoming community relations, and 3) retaining youth, with businesses, school districts, and workforce development organizations partnering to engage students in new ways that showcase the opportunities available to them in their regions, and implementing training for good local jobs right after graduation.
A documentary showcasing our work, “Thriving by Design: Rural and Urban Together,” is airing on Pioneer Public TV in western and southwestern Minnesota. The half-hour video includes extended excerpts of presentations at our 2018 convening in Granite Falls, featuring State Demographer Susan Brower and by G&J Policy & Research Director Kate Searls. Brower describes a Greater Minnesota rapidly becoming more culturally and racially diverse, and Searls establishes how inseparable and interdependent rural and metro economies have become. Also featured on that Pioneer TV link is a separate interview with Growth & Justice President Jane Leonard and our partner in the Thriving by Design project, Brett Buckner, managing director of OneMN.org. Yet another Pioneer TV feature we recommend is their documentary on the Grow Our Own project in southwestern Minnesota, a movement Growth & Justice has promoted since its launch in 2016. Grow Our Own focuses on racial and economic equity and is helping rural communities build five pillars a child needs to succeed: stable families and parenting, quality early childhood experiences, engagement during the K-12 years, safe and caring communities and pathways to successful careers.
“Gov. Tim Walz's first budget contains lots of things that leaders from outside the Twin Cities area have been seeking — more money for schools, local governments, highways and rural broadband to name just a few…(Senate Majority Leader Paul) Gazelka said the governor's proposals for expanding rural broadband, making schools safer, and increasing state aid to cities and counties are areas where Republicans and Democrats can find some common ground.’’ From article by Steve Karnowski, Associated Press.