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Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota
 

Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota

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Rural Minnesota is losing it's voice. That's the conclusion of a study where researchers talked to 50 prominent Minnesota decision makers and surveyed 120+ more. Due to a combination of reasons, the ...

Rural Minnesota is losing it's voice. That's the conclusion of a study where researchers talked to 50 prominent Minnesota decision makers and surveyed 120+ more. Due to a combination of reasons, the state's rural population is becoming increasingly left out and left behind on the discussions that affect our everyday lives. Read on to find out what people are saying and how they think the issue can be resolved.

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    Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota Document Transcript

    • Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota Executive Summary Rural Minnesota—the parts of the state outside the Twin Cities metro and the larger regional cities—has lost its influence in policy discussions that oc- cur in both the private and public sectors. On this point, there is near unani- mous opinion among influential Minnesotans who participated in a study sponsored by the Center for Rural Policy and Development (CRPD). What is less clear is how rural Minnesota can regain an effective voice and how organizations like the Center can better define and elevate issues and solutions that are critical to the region’s future. These challenges were at the heart of an assessment sponsored by CRPD. The Center is a non-partisan, not-for-profit policy research organization. It works with academic and non-academic researchers throughout the state to design and conduct research with the goal of providing policy makers with an unbiased evaluation of issues from a rural perspective. CRPD is based in St. Peter. The study included interviews and a survey of people actively involved in public policy in general and in issues affecting rural Minnesota specifi- cally, plus a review of news media. The results of the study identified several points of agreement among respondents: • Rural Minnesota has lost influence in state affairs as the population declines and ages. A major concern is that issues of greatest importance by TOM HORNER A PDF of this report can be Horner Strategies, LLCdownloaded from the Center’s web site at www.ruralmn.org. The Center for Rural Policy and Development, based in St. Peter, Minn., is a private, not-for-profit © 2013 Center for Rural Policy policy research organization dedicated to benefiting Minnesota by providing its policy makers with and Development an unbiased evaluation of issues from a rural perspective.
    • to rural Minnesota don’t have a “home” in the • There is consensus that creating a single, unify- public policy arena. There is no state agency ing voice for rural Minnesota isn’t likely or even dedicated to a comprehensive policy agenda for possible. Instead, rural Minnesota will benefit rural Minnesota; rural legislative caucuses have from several things: more strategic collaboration been inconsistent and not very effective; and that leverages the resources that do distinguish the statewide organizations with the greatest in- rural Minnesota; a focused agenda supported fluence focus more and more of their attention by research that has value to policy makers; and on the Twin Cities and regional communities. more focus on educating private and public• Other changes are eroding rural Minnesota’s in- policy makers on the benefit of a strong rural fluence. For example, the declining population Minnesota and the policies that will be needed has resulted in a smaller legislative delegation to achieve that goal. representing rural Minnesota. In addition, many of the longest-serving rural legislators have re- Methodology tired, further eroding rural Minnesota’s voice. The research for this report was conducted by• The widely held perception is that rural Minne- Horner Strategies, LLC, as part of a larger communi- sota is becoming much more fragmented in its cations assessment of CRPD. advocacy. There are few unifying voices. Rural This report is based on qualitative research. Minnesota doesn’t unite under the umbrella of While the data are not based on scientifically valid organizations representing agriculture as it once samples of rural Minnesota populations, they do did. Meanwhile, statewide organizations are paint a consistent picture of the issues challenging following the flow of money and members to rural Minnesota. the Twin Cities and regional centers—placing Information for this project was gathered in the much more emphasis on non-rural agendas. following ways:• Rural Minnesota’s voice is also affected by the on-going transition in Minnesota’s economy. • In-depth interviews were conducted from late The industries important to rural Minnesota— August through early October 2012. Approxi- farming, timber, mining, and manufacturing— mately 50 interviews were completed by author while still a large part of the state’s economy, Tom Horner with each interview taking 30 to 60 are employing fewer and fewer people. minutes. Interviews were conducted of current and former legislators, members of the news• Rural communities often end up competing media, and selected rural Minnesota business, aggressively with each other rather than join- civic, and policy influencers. The interviews ing forces to compete as a region. Local cham- were conducted in confidence to assure candor. bers of commerce are recognized as important voices in rural Minnesota. However, they are • An online survey was developed based on the under increasing pressure to deliver for their information gained through the interviews and own communities. The incentives important to a other assessments. The survey was distributed to chamber of commerce—retaining members and approximately 1,000 people with influence in a local financial base—place greater emphasis rural Minnesota; the response rate was slightly on bringing a handful of jobs to a small com- higher than 12 percent. munity than on joining forces to compete for a • A review of the news media was conducted. The regional win. primary focus of the research was CRPD and its2 Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota
    • “Hopefully, our new state leaders will make difficult budget decisions having first answered such presence in news stories. This important public In a nutshell, Miller’s ques- review provided insight and policy questions tion summarizes the challenge mostly substantiation of the as: Do we want to for all Minnesotans, not just on findings of the interviews and questions of public policy, but on sustain a vibrant rural survey. the decisions made in the pri- Minnesota, and what vate sector that have significant are the consequences implications for different regionsThe Changing Face of if we don’t?” of the state.Rural Minnesota Miller and the other authors In 2010, CRPD’s Rural Min- of the 2010 letter to the gover-nesota Journal compiled messages from diverse nor highlight the need to use apolicy analysts to the next governor of the state. magnifying glass more often than a telescope whenA consistent theme ran through the articles—rural defining Minnesota. Statistics too often characterizeMinnesota leaders, communities and organiza- a very diverse state as a monolithic entity:tions will rely on innovation to address the region’schallenges, but state government must be a strong • Citing a statewide poverty rate of nearly 11partner. percent (2009) ignores the reality that outside of “For decades, Minnesotans have taken for grant- the 11-county Twin Cities region, nearly half ofed that regardless of where we lived or traveled in the counties have higher poverty rates than thethis state, we could expect to receive essentially statewide average.the same level of basic local government services,” • Minnesota’s median household income of a bitwrote Jim Miller, executive director of the League of more than $57,200 (2006-10 average) is a resultMinnesota Cities. “That has been changing in recent mostly of higher incomes in the populationyears as the state’s budget dilemma has grown and centers—the Twin Cities and regional communi-funding for programs such as local government aid ties—and lower household incomes through-were consequently reduced. The result is a grow- out the rest of the state. In the four corners ofing disparity in the ability of Minnesota’s 854 cities Minnesota—Kittson, Rock, Houston, and Cookto provide similar services. While not exclusively counties—median household income averagesa function of geography, many communities in about $48,275 or more than 18 percent lowerGreater Minnesota are among the most adversely than the state average. And these are far fromaffected. the four poorest counties. “This has not been the result of an overt policy • Overall, about 15 percent of Minnesota childrenshift.…This outcome might even be described as an under age 18 live in poverty. But 13 countiesunintended consequence since most of the atten- from central Minnesota to the Canadian bordertion has been on solving the budget problem and top 20 percent, with some counties having anot so much on understanding the consequences of poverty rate among children of more than 30those decisions.…Hopefully, our new state leaders percent, according to the 2012 County Healthwill make difficult budget decisions having first an- Rankings and Roadmap sponsored by the Rob-swered such important public policy questions as: ert Wood Johnson Foundation.Do we want to sustain a vibrant rural Minnesota,and what are the consequences if we don’t?” said • Even the state’s politics are divided by geogra-Miller. phy. There may be no better recent exampleFinding the Voice of Rural Minnesota 3
    • than the 2012 vote on the constitutional tion, drawn to the area by Mille Lacs and other amendment defining marriage. Statewide, lakes, grew at a fairly healthy 5.9 percent in slightly more than 47 percent voted “Yes” on the last decade. Consider the counties that are the amendment, sending the amendment down being hit with a double whammy of populations to a sizable defeat. In fact, though, the “No” that are shrinking and aging. Nineteen coun- votes were a majority in only 12 of Minnesota’s ties have a median age of at least 45 and half 87 counties. Voters in the state’s other 75 coun- of Minnesota’s 87 counties are losing popula- ties favored the amendment, often by large ma- tion. Traverse County is a good example. It lost jorities. In fact, in at least 24 of the 75 counties, almost 14 percent of its population in the last the amendment was supported by two-thirds or decade. Today, nearly 26 percent of the popula- more of the electorate. tion—almost twice the state average—is 65 or older.• Mining, timber, agriculture, and associated manufacturing—the bedrocks of rural Min- The experts interviewed for this report were nesota—have shrunk from 19 percent of the quick to point out that these and other trends only economy in 1963 to about 6.5 percent today. define the challenges facing rural Minnesota; they Meanwhile, the service-producing sectors—in- don’t limit the opportunities for innovative solu- cluding retail, banking, and financial services, tions. among others—have mushroomed, particularly in regional centers. These sectors today account for 80 percent of Minnesota’s economy, accord- The Challenges ing to data compiled for the Governor’s 21st The Minnesota policy experts and influencers Century Tax Reform Commission, which issued who participated in the survey were asked to iden- its report in 2009. tify the greatest challenge rural Minnesota will face over the next decade in advocating for its public• Among the facts that most distort the reality of policy and economic development agendas. Among Minnesota are those dealing with population. the responses: The data tell us that by 2020 there will be more Minnesotans age 65 and older than school-age The changing population children. Woven throughout the research is the concern over rural Minnesota’s declining population and the Every one of the seven Twin Cities metro coun- aging of those who still choose to live in the region. ties has an over-65 population that is below the The challenge is reflected in the “brain drain,” the statewide average of 13.1 percent (2011). In concern that communities will lose their vitality, Greater Minnesota, it’s a different story. Many and in the inability of communities to meet the counties have populations in which one in five needs of a much older population. residents or more are over the age of 65. Look at Aitkin County, 125 miles or so north of the “The opportunity for young people to come and Twin Cities. There, more than 27 percent of the re-charge the communities.” population is over age 65. “The continued migration to larger metro areas Aitkin County, though, is one of the fortunate in pursuit of the better job positions, opportuni- Greater Minnesota counties. At least its popula- ties.”4 Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota
    • “Replacing the loss of the Baby Boomers with a “The continued trend of statewide officials to be trained work force.” ‘metro-centric.’” “The inverse relationship between population and social/commercial resources.” The lack of cooperation Many of the respondents to the survey who of- “The declining and aging populations that make fered a suggestion for the greatest challenge facing the current model of service delivery unafford- rural Minnesota cited competition (or the lack of able.” cooperation).The rural-metro (sometimes broken) connection “Getting support across regional boundaries.” The theme of a “One Minnesota” was echoed “The ability of political groups to work togetherthroughout the research, with several people in in- to provide financial support to solve problemsterviews saying that rural Minnesota’s effectiveness of rural Minnesota.”depends on educating Twin Citians on why an eco- “Creating common bonds and interconnectivitynomically healthy rural Minnesota is good for the with all rural citizens.”rest of the state. At the same time, there is concernthat rural Minnesota—its values and lifestyles— “Self-protectionism. Here in the NE, one towncould be overwhelmed by the interests and agendas won’t hire someone from another town fromof the Twin Cities metro area. down the road for one reason or another. There needs to be assistance in helping these small “Minnesota leaders need to think of the state as communities change on a different level, and a whole, rather than the Twin Cities and Greater that will not come from within their city or town Minnesota. Each depends on each other for a limits.” strong economy.” The role of government “Explaining to urban and suburban constituen- A strong sentiment of limited government runs cies why the rural voice matters, why and how through the research and especially in the survey. we are different, and why we have different While respondents see the need for some public needs that should be supported.” investments, rural Minnesota relying on government as a solution to the region’s challenges is more fre- “The disconnect that urban people have to the quently cited as an obstacle than a benefit. rural economy and the fact that many aspects of the rural economy are essential to making their “The false belief that government will solve urban lifestyles work.” [rural Minnesota’s] problems. Governments are “Not being treated fairly.…Good businesses broke. People need to accept the fact that they will come and actually help congestion in the need to solve their problems locally.” metro.” “Overcoming overpriced government at all “Sustaining the values and traditions of ‘rural levels, excess regulations, financing for private life’ as we have come to know and love here in sector, school funding, past and present.” Minnesota.” “Overcoming the misunderstanding of [rural “Twin Cities metro ideologies being imposed on Minnesota’s] own population and professionals all of Minnesota.” on how prosperity is created and sustained.”Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota 5
    • Strongly agree 48.5% Somewhat agree 34.0% Neutral 8.2% Somewhat disagree 8.2% Strongly disagree 1.0% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% Figure 1: Do you agree or disagree: Rural Minnesota as a region is losing influence on public policy and economic development issues. “High tax rates for business.” “To have a strong voice in government policy. Stay away from too much government control. The rules and regulations and paperwork will Factors beyond the changes in population, kill rural America.” though, are also seen as having a significant impact “Liberal politicians.” on the influence of rural Minnesota. The responses in Table 1 reflect the diversity of opinion. It alsoRural Minnesota’s Declining Influence underscores a strong sense among research par- ticipants that statewide organizations are ignoring Few of the participants in the research chal- rural Minnesota. The overall score for declininglenge the consensus that rural Minnesota has lost population ranked it as having the greatest impact,influence in statewide policy and political decisions but population only narrowly beat out the number(Figure 1). More than eight out of ten participants two issue. In looking at just the top two scores—anin a survey of influencers and policy analysts agree 8 or 9 in importance—respondents indicated thatwith the statement that rural Minnesota has lost statewide organizations increasingly focusing oninfluence on policy and economic development the Twin Cities is seen as slightly more harmful thanissues. (A reminder: This survey provides useful even rural Minnesota’s declining population.insights and perceptions only. It is not drawn from a Among the interview candidates, this numberscientifically valid sample.) two issue shows up in a variety of ways. For ex- Opinions on the underlying causes are ample, many saw it reflected in politics. Among themore diffuse than the headline, though. comments was this one from the leader of a quasi- The most common reason cited for rural Minne- governmental agency: “There always have been dif-sota’s decline in influence is the decline in popu- ferent facets of Greater Minnesota, but there used tolation. Respondents to the survey were asked to be a natural coalition between rural Minnesota andrank nine trends/issues on a scale measuring which the core of urban Twin Cities that went beyond thewas least harmful to rural Minnesota’s influence DFL. Citizens who lived in these areas had similarto which was most harmful (Table 1). The area’s lifestyles, wages, struggles, etc. Metro legislatorsdeclining population (cited as the most harmful by had to deliver services, delivering many of the same24.7 percent) was rated as the most significant trend needs that were important to rural Minnesota. Thataffecting rural Minnesota’s influence. A related is- coalition doesn’t exist anymore.”sue, the aging population, is also seen as a key The theme of a fragmented rural Minnesota,factor. in which multiple interests overwhelm a single,6 Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota
    • Table 1: Thinking about existing or potential trends, please rank the following from 1 (least important) to 9 (most important) in the order you think is or could most seriously harm rural Minnesota’s influence. Least important Most important Avg. Ranking: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Impact Declining population 3.4% 2.3% 5.7% 3.4% 8% 11.4% 23.9% 17% 25% 6.75 Statewide organiza- 6.7% 4.5% 5.6% 5.6% 5.6% 13.5% 15.7% 20.2% 22.5% 6.38 tions ignore rural MN Aging population 5.6% 7.9% 4.5% 10.1% 9.0% 16.9% 18% 20.2% 7.9% 5.8 Legislators with ideo- 9.1% 4.5% 9.1% 10.2% 6.8% 11.4% 19.3% 18.2% 11.4% 5.72 logical ties stronger than geographical ties Rural MN local and 4.5% 5.6% 5.6% 12.4% 18% 11.2% 21.3% 9% 12.4% 5.72 regional interests too fragmented Lack of a single voice 10.2% 9.1% 6.8% 11.4% 13.6% 6.8% 17% 11.4% 13.6% 5.36 Rural MN interests are 6.7% 9% 7.9% 11.2% 12.4% 22.5% 13.5% 11.2% 5.6% 5.25 too competitive Loss of legislative 14.9% 4.6% 11.5% 5.7% 12.6% 20.7% 11.5% 12.6% 5.7% 5.02 senioritycompelling voice, is one that research participants don’t guarantee declining influence for the region.frequently cited. “The truth is that [rural Minnesota Said one long-time observer of rural Minnesota pol-is] much more fragmented than it used to be. We itics and policies, “It’s hard to say the decline of thenever had to explain to the Legislature rural issues rural population and other trends haven’t had a rolein the past,” said a leader of one rural Minnesota in the decline of the rural voice. But that doesn’t ex-organization. “Now we do, and we don’t have a plain it all. Sometimes squeaky wheels that are thesingle voice who can deliver the message because smallest are the most effective. An example is thethey all are delivering their own messages.” Tea Party. Small but loud voices can be amplifiers.” A research participant from academia agreed: A concern expressed by many is that rural“The voices in rural Minnesota may be good to- Minnesota has lost its voice in state government.day—even better than before—but they are good at “Minnesota never has had an office of rural policymore narrow interests. That’s part of the fracturing or rural development,” said one observer fromthat is going on. What’s missing are the voices that academia. “Other states—Texas, Illinois, Pennsylva-can unify and amplify.” nia—have significant government agencies focused While some raised the question of whether it on their rural communities.”was possible for rural Minnesota to be represented He and others pointed out that while there haveby one voice, most said that on some issues it was been rural legislative caucuses, they tend to bean imperative. “Can one organization be a rural ineffective or highly partisan. Rural Minnesota hasMinnesota voice? We don’t have any choice,” said a had advocates within state agencies—including thenon-profit leader. “We have to figure out how to do Minnesota Department of Employment and Eco-that. Minnesota is a very diverse state; we in rural nomic Development—but there is no single advo-Minnesota have to figure out how to be relevant to cate within state government.the entire state.” This absence, said many, is becoming more Many participants in the research said that glaring. Statewide organizations that were oncewhile rural Minnesota faces many challenges, they focused on rural Minnesota (including MinnesotaFinding the Voice of Rural Minnesota 7
    • Local chambers of commerce U of M Extension Regional Econ Dev Comm MN Initiative Fdns MnSCUAssoc of MN Counties Figure 2: Which organization MN C of C is or could be a respected Coalition of Greater voice of influence for rural MN Cities Minnesota? MN Farm Bureau MN Farmers Union CRPD 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% % of respondents saying the organization is/could be “very effective.” % of respondents saying the organization is/could be “somewhat effective.”Rural Partners, a 10-year-old organization that Minnesota Farmers Union, 45.2 percent; and thelargely has become limited to being a clearing- Minnesota Initiative Foundations, 35.7 percent.house for information about programs, meetings Relatively few people—only 13.8 percent—areand grants) or that once included rural Minnesota in unfamiliar or neutral on local chambers of com-their agendas (for example, the Minnesota Associa- merce. It is interesting to note that while localtion of Commerce and Industry, which has morphed chambers rank highest as potentially the most effec-into today’s Minnesota Chamber of Commerce) are tive organizations, they also have the highest per-losing their stature or losing their interest in issues centage of people saying they are “very ineffective”outside of the Twin Cities. at 6.9 percent. Similarly, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is well known and regarded by moreEconomic Organizations Gaining Stature than half the respondents as effective, but it is also seen by more than one in five—22.6 percent—as Organizations focused on economic develop- “somewhat ineffective” or “very ineffective,” thement are perceived by survey respondents to be the highest ranking among the 11 organizations.most effective voices of influence for rural Min- When participants were asked to identify thenesota. When asked to rank the effectiveness of 11 one organization they thought could be most effec-organizations, 71 percent of respondents said local tive, the results underscored the loss of influencechambers were “very effective” or “somewhat effec- by Minnesota’s traditional rural voices, includingtive” (Figure 2). Only two other organizations—Uni- the Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union. Bothversity of Minnesota Extension Services and region- organizations were cited by fewer than 4 percent ofal economic development commissions—were at survey respondents as the organization that couldor near 60 percent in the combined score. be most effective. One of the other striking findings is that even While local chambers of commerce wereamong the participants in this research—people singled out by nearly 22 percent of respondentsselected because of their knowledge of rural Min- (Figure 3) as the most effective organizations, thenesota and public policy—many of the organiza- results do show some surprises. The Center for Ruraltions are unfamiliar. For example, nearly half of Policy and Development, for example, scored wellthe respondents (47.4 percent) had no opinion or a when respondents were asked to identify a singleneutral opinion on the Center for Rural Policy and effective voice, suggesting that those who know theDevelopment. Other organizations with high levels organization believe it can have a significant role inof unfamiliarity (percentage of no opinion or neutral representing an agenda for rural Minnesota.opinion) are Minnesota Farm Bureau, 45.7 percent;8 Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota
    • Local chambers 21.8% CRPD 16.4% MN Initiative Fdns 12.7% Figure 3: Which one organization do MN Chamber of you think could be the most effective 9.1% Commerce in being a strong voice for rural Min- nesota issues? Regional Econ 8.2% Dev Comm Assoc of MN Counties 5.5% 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% The Minnesota Initiative Foundations ranked Competition Replacing Collaborationthird among the organizations that potentially could There is a strong sense that competition toobe the most effective voices. Like CRPD, the MIFs often is replacing collaboration among rural Min-also have a high percentage of people who are neu- nesota interests, sometimes to the long-term detri-tral or have no opinion (35.7 percent). ment of rural Minnesota’s interests: “Where we areAmong those interviewed, the consensus is that the lacking, many rural communities still are competingMIFs are most effective in their role as conveners, one with another. We need to replace that competi-bringing together people to focus on specific issues tion with rural collaboration. We need to re-shapeof regional concern or opportunity. Generally, they our cultural thinking. Communities layer on region-are viewed as being important organizations within al, regional layer on state. Our competition is moretheir respective regions, but aren’t viewed as having global,” said one interviewee.statewide influence—in part because of their inher- Another person said this: “We still compete forent design. The MIFs were created in the 1980s to limited resource dollars, for example, on bonding.respond to the farm crisis of that era. The six MIFs Competition makes one stronger. But where we losewere created to leverage the resources and assets is when we convey to ourselves and others howof their respective regions, a point they reinforce in the metro won, how Duluth won. We fail when wetheir own description of their work: “[E]ach foun- view who lost rather than everyone wins. This is adation is independent and serves its region with critical shift in thinking that has to occur.”unique grants, business loans, leadership programs, A public affairs expert argued that collabora-and donor services.” tion should extend to metro-area partnerships: “Tie While the MIFs are generally well regarded, [rural Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area]some interview respondents believe they have together. Build on shared principles. The challengesbecome too cautious. This view is reflected in the may be different, but economic development iscomment from an influencer interview: “The MIFs, economic development. I think there are oppor-they’re generally suffering. They have been institu- tunities to build partnerships with metro-focusedtionalized. Could they speak regionally? Maybe. Do groups, including the Minnesota Business Partner-I see them doing that, no, because of the institution- ship, but we need to give metro groups a reason toalization of them. That’s happened in part because care.”of their funding base, in part because of their tradi- Competition among rural interests extends totional mission. It’s a combination of things.” politicians and government. “I go to the Association of Minnesota Counties meetings and see the divi-Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota 9
    • sion among counties. The dues are paid by metro, end up spending our resources—time and money—but the votes are among rural counties, so it’s a on the margins, on the 5 percent of the issues onstand-off. Division among counties isn’t [Democrat which we disagree. We need conveners who seeversus Republican], but rural, metro, suburban,” what we have in common, not focusing on the is-said a county official. “Even rural legislators are sues that divide us.”becoming more ideological, less rural. Partisanshipis starting to trump rural interests. Creating an Effective Voice for Rural Creating a single rural voice to counter thecompetition isn’t the goal, in the view of many. MinnesotaInstead, more effective voices—individually and in Research participants offered a host of solu-partnerships—are needed on critical issues. “Rural tions. Many of them, though, focused on commonMinnesota has many voices, as it should. But these elements:voices are not as effective as they should be, norare they effectively coordinating. What if some of • Good researchthe key players like Extension, CRPD, the MIFs, • A credible voice backed by partnersBlandin, and others sat down a couple times a year • Innovative solutionsto kick around strategy and message? It wouldn’tneed to be a grand and formal effort. Some type of Among the solutions offered by survey partici-conversation would be better than [what happens] pants, the most important component of creatingcurrently,” said a non-profit executive. an effective voice for rural Minnesota is an organi- Collaboration enhances the influence of rural zation with a presence across the state (Figure 4).Minnesota organizations, according to many re- Closely following in importance are the need forsearch participants. A city official offered this view: trusted research and the ability to convene influ- ential individuals and organizations to define and “Knowing that the new normal is a resource- support issues. constrained environment, one needs to focus on Some research participants are pessimistic. Said partnerships and ‘friend raising.’ Expanding the one survey respondent: “I don’t think any of this spheres of influence is critical to being success- matters. The population and money are centered ful. Strong and resilient voices in the legislature in the Twin Cities.” Said another, “With dwindling focusing on the re-occurring themes and mes- government investment, the pressure will be im- sages of Greater Minnesota are critical. Ag, en- mense to make investments where they get the vironmental regulations, a balanced approach most ‘bang for the buck,’ meaning investments will to funding bonding projects are just three of the tend to go toward areas of population density. Rural themes that should be focused on and could be community colleges will suffer, infrastructure such done more effectively with partnerships.” as roads and broadband will lag behind regional/ urban hubs, state school funding formulas will not These conversations could help define a com- favor small districts, etc.”mon agenda and marshal resources more effective- Many research participants don’t see a singlely. “The challenge for rural Minnesota is to figure rural Minnesota voice as possible or even desirable.out how to bring fragmented interests together and Rural Minnesota should be represented by differentsee the whole,” said one interview subject. “We10 Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota
    • Having a statewide presence 27.5%Trusted research to define issues 26.3% Convening influentials to define and support issues 22.5% Creating and mobilizing Figure 4: Which one of the following is 11.3% broad grassroots support most important for promoting the public Raising money/making policy and economic development 3.8% interests of rural Minnesota? grants for initiatives Raising money 0.0% for political candidates 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30%advocates. What is missing, according to many, is tently and persistently: “There has to be a cred-strategic collaboration—a coming together of effec- ible plan, but anything put forward as publictive organizations to identify and deliver common policy needs broad support or it is doomed tomessages and strategies where interests converge. ‘fund-it-and-forget-it’ kiss of death.” “We need a handful—maybe one, two, or • In addition to being innovative, there is a needthree—go-to organizations that are sophisticated, to leverage rural resources. Said one interviewdo good work. And we need lots of smaller orga- subject: “All these [rural-focused] organiza-nizations that are able to navigate the fragmented tions need to figure out how we can supportworld of rural Minnesota. Beyond the [Center for each other, how we can leverage each other’sRural Policy and Development], what rural entities strengths and tools.” Said another, “The chal-are there? Blandin to a degree. Extension Services, lenge is to get people to think outside of box.but a rural voice isn’t its calling card. We have gov- An example is industrial development. Manyernment. But then the list starts to trail off,” said one towns have their own economic developmentpolicy analyst. director, but because of budgets, they hire Many of those participating in the research see people who are mediocre, then fight for smalleropportunity and success in thoughtful and credible budgets. If we got together, we could hire betterresearch. Said one survey participant, “We need people, leverage all resources in region.”trusted research gathered and advocated in non-partisan ways. Avoid unproductive power grabs and The Last Wordcreate a ‘win-win.’” Despite the concern over rural Minnesota’s Other solutions were also cited: declining influence and fragmented voice, there remains a sentiment of hope and possibility that• Metro interests need to be educated on rural Minnesota can function as a whole. As one research Minnesota, why investments there benefit the participant put it: entire state, and what the priorities are. “Few [metro residents] know the drivers of the ‘other “What always has given me hope is that even Minnesota’ outside the realm of the metro,” the strongest metro advocates want rural Min- said one respondent. “News and information is nesota to succeed. There is a lot of goodwill in stunted. People know what they see most.” principle; the trick is to harness that into action,• In an era of tight public resources, rural Min- into development, into good policy for rural nesota needs to provide solutions to effectively Minnesota.” compete for government funding. A key is thoughtful strategies that are supported consis-Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota 11
    • www.ruralmn.org Twitter @ruralpolicymnwww.facebook.com/ruralmnFinding the Voice of Rural Minnesota