A recent Post Bulletin article cited Greater Minnesota city leaders making a compelling case for a state bonding bill of at least $1.5 billion to restore deteriorating rural infrastructure, especially for water and wastewater systems, and for more state investment in affordable child care and housing.
Across rural and Greater Minnesota, headlines like these point to growing consensus that all our regions need and deserve more public investment in the vital stuff that local economies and people in our communities need to truly thrive.
This stuff includes: affordable health care, housing, and child care; high-speed broadband; roads and bridges and transportation mobility; infrastructure, especially water and wastewater treatment; and help transitioning to more sustainable agriculture and land use as climate change disproportionately threatens our precious rural places, from farms to forests to wilderness.
Community groups and businesses in Greater Minnesota are not only demanding this richly deserved investment, they also are taking their own initiatives to revitalize their localities and protect their environment. They are improving the education and health of their human capital, addressing local racial disparities and economic inequalities, and trying their best to become more attractive to newcomers and business growth. Admirable efforts in Rochester include the emerging Cradle 2 Career partnership, focused on erasing disparities in education outcomes, and the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association.
Dozens of inspiring local examples like these, along with scores of practical policy recommendations for a more evenly prosperous North Star State, can be found in The Minnesota Equity Blueprint. This new guidebook was officially unveiled on Feb. 27 by teleconference in six communities along the Mississippi River (Winona, North Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Brainerd, Grand Rapids and Bemidji).
The Blueprint contains 140 recommendations in all, on 170 pages richly illustrated with charts and maps that explain our challenges. Instructive story boxes provide detail on local enterprise and creativity that are improving lives. The booklet is intended for every Minnesotam: policymakers, workers, business owners, non-profits and local community organizations.
Among the many recommendations that emerged with special impact on Greater Minnesota: relieve farm and business regulatory burdens that often do not account for rural realities; increase funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband development program; encourage rural "placemaking’’ efforts that bring arts and cultural amenities to small towns; expand welcoming initiatives for immigrants like those in Winona and Rochester; increase support for rural small business incubation and access to capital; help rural landowners and communities shift to sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and restoration of lakes and rivers quality; and provide more funding in bonding bills and other programs for rural water and wastewater treatment.
The Blueprint is one of the most comprehensive, practical and constructive policy frameworks our state has seen in recent decades. It also is one of the first to integrate rural and Greater Minnesota into a framework of "equity,’’ which has typically been applied to urban communities of color.
This idea of rural-metro solidarity was reflected in a recent joint commentary published by the Center for Rural Policy & Development. The authors were Tim Penny, president of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (and a former Democratic congressman) and Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership (and a former Republican legislator from the Twin Cities). They said:
"These dynamics (rural-urban differences) obscure a fundamental truth: Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro are both integral to our state’s identity and a critical part of Minnesota’s current and future success … We are one state with several economies and several economic regions. Urban and rural together define the success of our state."
Dane Smith is Senior Policy Fellow and President Emeritus of Growth & Justice, a research and advocacy organization that seeks a more equitable and environmentally sustainable economy for Minnesota. The Minnesota Equity Blueprint can be downloaded from the Growth & Justice website, www.growthandjustice.org