A Down-and-Dirty Rural Definition

By Tim Marema

Here are the words you don’t want to hear at the beginning of rural policy meetings:

“Before we get into our topic, let’s take a quick look at how we are going to define rural.”

There’s never anything quick about it. Hours later, after the last statistician, artist, organizer, or demographer has collapsed in fatigue, you might be ready to move on to your real topic.

Yet, for all the difficulties of definition, we know rural America exists, because we’ve experienced it.

Many of us live there (about a quarter of Minnesotans and a fifth of the nation, but that depends on how you define it). And almost all of us care about the health and future of our rural communities, whether we live in a big city or the countryside.

The first thing to acknowledge is that defining rural depends on the policy context. Are you dealing with waste water, communications, transportation, education, culture, regional planning? Each policy area might require a slightly different approach to the definition.

Are you engaged in a five-year scholarly study or a 30-minute down-and-dirty analysis for a member of the press who needs the answer yesterday?

Are you looking within just one state, a region, nationally?

Are you expected anywhere for supper?
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Manufacturing and today’s rural MN economy

In Minnesota, 826,000 jobs, $18.3 billion in wages and 16 percent of our GDP comes from manufacturing. Last week rural communities across Minnesota celebrated Manufacturers Week, “a statewide celebration that puts the spotlight on a crucial sector of the state’s economy.”

From Red Wing to Sauk Centre, Bemidji to Pequot Lakes, Warroad to Aitkin, Minnesotans toured rural manufacturing businesses to see firsthand how our homegrown products are made and to gain an appreciation of how that contributes to the vibrancy of our communities.
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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):
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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…
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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.
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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.
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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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