New report answers why unemployment rates are lower in rural Midwest, post recession

First, a staggering statistic: “Eighty-two percent of U.S. counties experienced job losses as a result of the recession.” WOW! But, there’s more…

“Some places were hit much harder than others, and some have recovered more rapidly,” says a recent USDA report.

Surprisingly, the Plains states in the Midwest seem to have made it out relatively unscathed with the lowest unemployment rates in the country. USDA researchers asked “Why?” in their new report. Here’s what they found (adapted from this Daily Yonder article):

Agricultural-dependent economies

“The Plains States’ favorable mix of industries at the start of the recession served to moderate the recession-induced increase in unemployment,” the report said. “In particular, Plains counties were far more likely to have farming-dependent economies,… and this reduced unemployment rates…”

Fewer manufacturing jobs

Some of the hardest hit counties were industrial states, like Michigan. The mining/logging industry has helped many northern Plains states.

Higher percentage of college graduates

“This college-educated share was higher in the average county in the Plains States (52%, including both those with some college education and 4-year-college graduates) than in non-Plains counties (46 percent),” the report said. “During the recession, their higher levels of education served to limit the increase in unemployment in Plains counties.”

Population loss

“And finally, there’s a more ominous reason for the relatively strong unemployment performance of Plains States,” writes Daily Yonder editor Tim Marema. “Those states also tended to be losing population. That means fewer people looking for work and, in turn, fewer people who are unemployed.”

Take a look at the full USDA report and see if it rings true for your county.

You can check out the most recent unemployment data in this Daily Yonder article.

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Reflecting on the future of equitable education in Minnesota

Kyle Erickson, grants program officer

Energized and hopeful, Blandin Foundation staffers Kyle Erickson and Becky LaPlant returned from “Learning and Teaching with Fire: Lessons from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges (TCU)” bubbling with new ideas for the future of equitable education in Minnesota.

Kyle reflected on his experience in a guest blog for the Minnesota Council on Foundation’s Philanthropy Potluck blog. Here are a few snippets…

Native Americans and African Americans have traveled a very different path through time and place in America. One area of shared experience for the two cultures is a history of governmental and societal policies and systems that have resulted in a largely inequitable educational experience for their young people.

He wrote about how TCUs are greatly improving the educational outlook for Native Americans.

With help from these institutions [TCUs], the number of Native Americans who have earned a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree has increased almost 250% over the last 20 years.

He then pointed out a number of successes TCUs have had in Minnesota.

  • Place-based research that allows TCU students to learn while addressing local and regional problems ranging from diabetes treatment and prevention to aquifer management and alternative agriculture systems.
  • Degree programs that meet community needs, including nursing, teacher education, and indigenous language studies.
  • Creation of a comprehensive data reporting system (AIHEC AIMS) that ensure accountability to communities and funders, and provides a platform for continuous institutional improvement.

These successes and more have been achieved despite the overwhelming obstacles students face.

Nearly all TCU students fall into one or more of the “high risk” categories, and it’s not uncommon for a student to fit all of them, yet these institutions and their students are finding a path to success.

He closed with a hopeful message for the future.

If Minnesota aims to take equity in education seriously, this conversation will be the starting point of a larger, deeper body of work that will benefit Native American and non-Native learners alike.

For the full blog post, visit MCF’s Philanthropy Potluck blog.

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Rural Minnesota communities take the 2N2 pledge

5 seconds. That’s how long your eyes leave the road for every text message you send or receive. Traveling at 55mph, you cover the length of a football field during that time – blindfolded.

Scary, right?

Now trade that 5 seconds in for 2N2 - 2 Eyes on the Road. 2 Hands on the Wheel. Teens all around the country are making the 2N2 pledge. In Minnesota, Benson Secondary School, Minnewaska Area High School in Glennwood, Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls, Parkers Prairie High School, and Grand Rapids High School (in our Home community) are all taking part in State Farm’s Celebrate My Drive Campaign. Working with their community to “make the smart choice behind the wheel,” they’re competing with other schools to be recognized as a community committed to safe driving.

Consider making the pledge to support a high school near you. We did!

Blandin Foundation staffers make the pledge to "Celebrate My Drive"



Attend Border to Border Broadband: No Community Left Behind

If access to, and use of, high-speed Internet is important to your rural community, consider attending the Border to Border Broadband Conference. Read more about what you will learn below…

Earlier this fall, over the course of three weeks, three national organizations working on driving Internet access, adoption and use came to Minnesota for major meetings. Why?

  • Is it because our children are above average?
  • Is it something in the water?
  • Or (more likely)… Is there something pretty exciting going on right here in the state of Minnesota?

Come and be part of the excitement on November 18-19 at Cragun’s Resort in Brained. Connect with others from across the state who are doing this work. Get (re)inspired.

This year’s conference features breakout sessions so you can customize your experience. In Making Public-Private Partnerships Work!, attendees will hear from Danna MacKenzie, Executive Director of the Office of Broadband Development, and legal and financial experts talk about how to build partnerships between public entities and private sector providers. What is legal? What is smart? And what are the options for finance, ownership and operations?

Other breakout session topics include:

  • Broadband-Based Economic Development
  • Top-Down Apps in Education
  • Effective Messaging for Community Engagement
  • Blandin Broadband Communities Showcase
  • Schools, Libraries and Technology Centers

Visit the conference webpage for more information, including registration and the preliminary agenda.

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On the path to a vibrant future: Warroad

On the surface, Warroad, Minnesota, seems like countless rural Minnesota places: a small town (population 1,781), near a big lake (Lake of the Woods), in one of the state’s sparsely populated areas (northwestern Minnesota). With vital stats like these, you might assume Warroad is clinging to survival, struggling with a decimated economy and discouraged residents.

You would need to check that assumption. Warroad, you would discover, boasts a robust economy, brims with community passion, and brings commitment to design and claim a vibrant future.

The community’s largest employer, Marvin Windows and Doors, draws thousands of workers – some who drive 50 or 60 miles one away. The family-run enterprise has intentionally invested for more than a century in its industry-leading, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant – and in the community. And Warroad’s heritage as a hotbed of hockey has propelled it into international spotlights many times over the years – most recently last February when T.J. Oshie and Gigi Marvin, both hometown heroes and household names, competed in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Looking a little deeper, you would discover that Warroad figures prominently in Native American history and culture. It is home to Laotians and Scandinavians, folks whose families have farmed or worked at Marvins for generations, and those who’ve recently arrived, attracted by competitive wage jobs and a unique quality of life.

Keenly aware of their remote location, and dedicated to maintaining and enriching Warroad’s assets, community leaders have set a community vision that’s rich, relevant and vibrant. They’re talking to each other, dreaming with one another, seeking the next generation of community leaders who will share that vision and make it their own, moving the community forward in the process.

Vision, passion and action — just a few of the things Blandin Foundation CEO Kathy Annette heard during a listening meeting she hosted recently in Warroad with nearly a dozen community leaders. Those community assets are focused on topics like housing to accommodate a growing workforce, discerning the best ways Warroad can be welcoming, bringing high-speed internet to more residents, and mentoring the next generation of leaders.

It also means celebrating characteristics that make Warroad unique. Following the resolution of a dispute with a national organization over Warriors high school mascot, community leaders collaborated on a rededication ceremony to celebrate the Warroad Warriors. The event included an Ojibwe pipe ceremony, drumming and a community-wide pep rally in recognition of the community’s connection to the Native American community, and to acknowledge the importance of respecting the cultural significance of the icon.

Blandin Foundation president Kathy Annette meets with Warroad community leaders to discuss opportunities and challenges in the area.

Discovering the rich conversations and commitment alive all across rural Minnesota is what drives Annette’s commitment to host listening meetings as often as she can, including 17 in the past three years. This year, in addition to Warroad, she will hear from Grand Marais, Inger and Austin.

“Each community has its own narratives and personality,” Kathy said. “It’s such a privilege when these places welcome us in and share their stories and ideas. I get a glimpse of their community, gather information that helps the Foundation strengthen its work, and I always come away energized about the tough, yet rewarding, work leaders all across the state are doing to build hope and strengthen rural Minnesota.”

Jennifer Bevis, Communications Assistant at Blandin Foundation.

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Newspapers: The Foundation of Vibrant Communities

My daughter, Ada, smiles big for her newspaper debut!

Common perception holds that millennials no longer value newspapers as a key source for information. Well, as a millennial, I beg to differ and in observation of National Newspaper Week, I would like to thank newspapers for playing a vital role in the health of rural communities.

It’s morning. I pad to the front door, swing it open and let the cool air smack me in the face. My toes touch the goose bump-inducing concrete and I scoop up a bundle of black and white paper at my feet. As I plop down on my couch with my steaming cup of joe, the pages start to unfold. A smile breaks out because right away I spot my neighbor’s daughter on the front page, right under the heading “Smile of the Day.” Now, if that’s not a good way to start the day, I don’t know what is.

My eyes scan the front page to see a myriad of information – some local, some regional, some national. Some feel good. Some hard-hitting. All important. All about community.

Newspapers inform us about happenings in our area so that we can fully participate in community life. They also help strengthen community ties by showing us how we relate to one another (I got three additional copies of my daughter’s newspaper photo from coworkers!). Community newspapers play an important, unifying role in many rural places.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Blandin Foundation president/CEO featured in MNSights

Hope springs eternal. These uplifting words were spoken by our president, Kathy Annette, in a recent MNSights article. While this message pertained to a specific instance in Kathy’s life, it could be said that MNSights, a publication of the Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, showcases stories that spring eternal hope - stories about energizing kids’ creativity to stimulate learning, about revitalizing a city through job creation and about keeping our feathered, furred and finned friends protected. For these stories and more, check out the recent issue of MNSights.

Here are some snippets from Kathy’s conversation with Minnesota Philanthropy Partners CEO Carleen Rhodes…

On Rural

“…the economy, our youth, that’s what’s important to us in rural Minnesota. We do need to develop our economy. That comes across again and again. We need jobs and opportunities locally so people can make a living and lead good lives.”

On Leadership Style

“I would say my leadership style is very much engaging, listening, teamwork. That’s how I find things get done best: engage people, listen to them and surround yourself with really terrific people, which I’ve been able to do.”

… and how those skills apply to marriage

“And many of the leadership skills that I learned, I’ve used in my marriage. Compromise. Teamwork. Listening. It’s not so much different than what I’ve trained for. Maybe it took me a long time to train before I could have a marriage as good as mine is right now!”

For more about Kathy’s life on the reservation, her thoughts on rural communities, leadership and marriage, read the full article here.


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Education Grants “fill the gap” for 328 students

With books stacked sky high in the back seat and a trunk that’s bungee corded shut, many young Minnesotans hit the road last month, putt-putting to their futures.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education recently reported that 77 percent of the state’s high school graduates attended college in 2012, up from 56 percent in 1996. At a glance, this increase helps gauge how attainable higher education is to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Part of rising accessibility is related to student aid.  College Board found that student aid nation-wide has increased from $29 million in 1992 to $102.5 million in 2012. This shift in funding is opening up opportunities for students who need to fill the gap between the cost of school and the amount they can afford.

With rural schools growing in numbers and in diversity, it’s important all students feel supported as they take their first steps towards achieving their dreams.

“Our trustees and staff recognize the possibilities that come with education, and celebrate that local students are making ambitious, hopeful choices for their futures,” said Kathy Annette, Blandin Foundation CEO.  “Communities are stronger with every success of every child, and we are honored to stand with students, families and communities in embracing our youth, from cradle to career.”

As students all over the country take their first (sometimes) shaky step into freshmen orientation, 328 Itasca County students, who were awarded an Education Grant, will have the confidence knowing that their community is rooting for their success.

For more on our Education Grants, click here.

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Forging a path for Itasca County’s future through conversation at first-ever Community Cafe

Itasca County Community Cafe: What is the future we want to live into?
















Itasca County educators, government, artists, law enforcement, business owners, environmentalists, social services providers and more gathered together on Tuesday to answer the question: What is the future we want to live in to? Participating in three 20-minute conversations, some over-arching themes surfaced:

  • Care enough to ask for one anothers’ stories
  • Expand Art of Hosting in our community
  • MORE inclusive conversations
  • Better resource self-care and networking
  • Update the area’s socio-economic indicators
  • Be a Good Neighbor and bring a neighbor (to the Grand Gathering on November 22)
  • Seek out voices of the unheard

The themes that came from yesterday’s gathering will inform a Grand Gathering Open Space (more about this gathering technique here) at Grand Rapids High School on November 22, hosted by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. For more information about the Grand Gathering, contact Jerry Nagel, director of Meadowlark Institute, at or 218-532-2585.













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Connect Itasca seeks to build the case for broadband expansion

A small rural clinic closes. A home buyer chooses to look elsewhere. A teacher can’t teach.

While these situations seem unrelated and strangely paired, they all have one common denominator — broadband.

Not what you expected? Here’s the skinny behind the stories:

  • The Bigfork, Minnesota clinic, a satellite of Essentia, can’t upload patient files because broadband connectivity is spotty at best. Therefore, they can’t provide the services needed by the community.
  • A Grand Rapids-based real estate agent shows a cabin to a perspective buyer who asks, “Is there broadband available?” Once the “no” is heard, the buyer moves on.
  • A teacher in Balsam Township teaches online courses for a local community college. He doesn’t have the bandwidth to video conference with his students or view any online media produced by his students, severely limiting his ability to teach the way he deems most effective.

Map courtesy of Connect Minnesota

“It’s the stories we’ve heard of people struggling, struggling to do homework, to manage their home business, to access the information they want to online,” said Itasca County administrator Trish Klein. “That’s what motivated us to start Connect Itasca.”

Connect Itasca is an initiative, facilitated by Itasca County, to gather quality information and facilitate partnerships to stimulate investment in broadband networks that reach throughout Itasca County.

Information is being collected through an online and print survey to identify specific areas where people lack the broadband service they desire.

“Our hope is to identify the areas of need and to partner with existing providers to justify expanding existing service areas,” said Klein.

Expanded service equals expanded opportunity – for existing and new businesses, residents, students, etc. Research shows that 30- to 50-year-olds are choosing to move to rural, but they expect a solid broadband connection to be part of the relocation package.

University of Minnesota Extension sociologist Ben Winchester says, “People almost expect to have [broadband internet]. They’re surprised not to have it. It’s not something people search and hunt for; it’s something they expect to be there.”

“Five years ago you might be able to get by without having adequate broadband but the world has changed,” said Klein. “The timing is right — for our community, for the state, for the country. We can bring our government, funding and technology partners to the table and leverage the commitment of our champions (description below) to connect Itasca.”

Survey data is being collected through October 31, 2014. If you live in Itasca County, you can take the survey here. It will take about 5 minutes. For up-to-date information about Connect Itasca, follow their Facebook page.

How can you help?

Consider being a champion. A Connect Itasca Champion is a volunteer who commits to spreading the word about the Connect Itasca initiative. A champion should have a passion for the goals of connecting all Itascans. They commit to telling friend and neighbors about the importance of the survey and potentially answering questions submitted through the website. To be a Champion, contact Trish Klein at 218-327-7359 or




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