When groups representing rural Minnesota interests released their wish lists for the 2019 legislative session, some of the items looked familiar: a boost in funding for the Local Government Aid program, proposals to generate housing, more money for broadband expansion.
Yet while the issues might not be new, some of the players at the Capitol are, including Gov.-elect Tim Walz, the former U.S. congressman from Mankato whose campaign theme – “One Minnesota” – heartened some rural leaders who have long felt left behind by the Twin Cities metropolitan region.
“I’m a ‘One Minnesota’ kind of guy, so I’m kind of optimistic,” said Dan Dorman, the executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership (GMNP), a collection of businesses, nonprofits and other groups. Dorman, a former Republican state lawmaker, said he was committed to supporting a gubernatorial candidate from Greater Minnesota – regardless of party. So, in the fall election, he filled in the oval next to the Democrat Walz’s name.
Much of the chatter at the fall convention of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC), held in Alexandria, centered on the possibilities of a Walz administration, said Bradley Peterson, the executive director of the organization, which represents about 90 cities. “Our members are pretty excited that there is going to be a rural governor,” he said. “That opens up, hopefully, some opportunities and brings some fresh perspective to the process here for the next four years.”
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Something rare happened at an event last week in Alexandria.
Two DFL leaders and two Republican leaders all agreed on something — Minnesota’s child care shortage is a big problem that should be a priority in the next legislative session.
The legislators talked about possible solutions at a panel discussion Thursday, Nov. 15, during the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities Fall Conference at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center. The two-day event drew hundreds of city leaders from throughout the state.
Minnesota has a greater need for child care because it ranks third in the nation for having both parents in the workforce, said Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley. Adding to the complexity of the problem is that many workers have non-traditional work hours or have children with special needs, he added.
Another panelist, Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, said the child care shortage is a statewide problem and solutions for metro and rural areas require different approaches.
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Some local communities have leaders ready and willing to tackle local racism.
Tri-City United, Waseca and St. Peter Public Schools brought “It’s Time to Talk,” a community conversation about race through their Community Education departments, in 2017. They were organized by Region Nine Development Commission with partners YWCA Mankato and Greater Mankato Diversity Council.
But both organizers and participants said those conversations should not be the end.
“We were hearing from communities that there are not a lot of resources available for small communities to learn and talk about changing community demographics, what does that mean socially and economically and how can we continue to be a vibrant and growing community,” said Jessica O’Brien, community engagement manager.
So the commission collaborated with Greater Mankato Diversity Council and the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality to create a seven-time monthly educational event. The series, called the Rural Equity Learning Community, wrapped up in October. But participants said the hours of education, activities and relationship-building will stick with them.
“One of the biggest lessons was how big my network is now,” said Keri Johnson of St. Peter. “We all have a different role to play and we’re all linked together so this is a way to expand our impact. By connecting with other people, that will make everything we’re trying to do seem more possible.”
If plans fall into place, more than a common school district will connect Le Center, Montgomery and Lonsdale. A proposed biking/walking path will literally connect the three communities.
The concept for, the path, called the Czech Heritage Trail, came into being last year. Mark Preissing, while working as community education director for Tri-City United Schools, met with the three city administrators and applied for a Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) grant to connect Le Center, Montgomery and Lonsdale. SMIF has funded a feasibility study with a $10,000 grant, and the estimated time of completion for the study is January 2019.
For the first time, members of all three communities attended a meeting to share their opinions on the trail’s development. At Hilltop Hall in Montgomery Wednesday, representatives from Hoisington Koegler Group and Region Nine Development Commission conducted the meeting and facilitated discussions.
Gabrielle Grinde, landscape architect for Hoisington Koegler Group, said the study requires looking at mapping options, casting an analysis and estimating construction costs.
“We’re anticipating this trail could be a 20-year master plan,” said Grinde.
Innovation, funding opportunities, media highlights, and more in the latest issue of Region Nine’s E-News!
Celebrating the MedTech Connect Release, grant opportunities, and more in the latest issue of Region Nine’s E-News!