If success has a thousand fathers, and failure is an orphan, we’ll have to wait a while to see the results of the Walz governing mantra, One Minnesota.
It’s an encouraging opener. At the Blandin Foundation, we used this very theme in all our work during the 1990s. We’re pleased the governor has continued it.
But declaring such a goal is easy … putting it to work is hard. Here are a few “lessons learned” along the way, starting when Gov. Arne Carlson was in office.
Mining on the Iron Range tanked; there was massive unemployment. At Blandin we called on the McKnight Foundation to lend a hand in our “backyard.” Russ Ewald came through with grants that literally kept families fed and sheltered. We were so successful, he used this as the blueprint for the six Initiative Funds that span the entire state today and are helping communities to grow and flourish, from the bottom up.
This is One Minnesota … an urban foundation (3M money) helping rural Minnesota.
A second success: environmental education. The state had just launched a new education requirement to integrate environmental education in all class work. Blandin Foundation, which grew out of the forest products industry, worked with Gov. Carlson to expand five statewide environmental learning centers so that every student could have an immersion in environmental science. From Eagle Bluff to Wolf Ridge, Minnesota kids are exposed to environmental science in One Minnesota.
There’s a third example, and maybe the most important: community leadership across the state. At Blandin we recognized that money wasn’t going to do much unless it was backed up by people who could organize their communities to achieve common goals. So we began a leadership-training program that has touched hundreds of communities and thousands of people who care about those communities — and about One Minnesota.
Where might the governor go looking for ideas? Forget about those awful enterprise zones, where one city or state recruits another’s companies.
If I could whisper one big idea to the governor and the Legislature, it would be this: Cut the community colleges and vocational schools loose from the Minnesota State system. Then give them the budgets to grow and enhance the workforce of their communities and regions. You may want to merge a few, even close a couple. Some may need collective leadership. But community colleges are the source of the future workforce of One Minnesota.
Life is a talent search. Ask any employer. Our winters mean Minnesota is not a destination for talented young people. So we must grow our own, all across One Minnesota.
Water will be a perpetual issue, one that pits agriculture against so many other recreational and environmental interests. It clearly demands the highest governmental involvement. One example: The Minnesota River is the primary source of sediment flowing into the Mississippi, which in our grandchildren’s time will become little more than a navigational ditch as it passes through Lake Pepin.
The University of Minnesota houses the greatest talent pool of intellect in the state but requires nurture and discipline to be a top-tier research, education and service institution serving One Minnesota.
It is gratifying to see the governor picking up the torch of this urban, suburban and rural theme, especially at a time when we seem so divided. And it is doubly gratifying to see some of the seeds from philanthropy take root in state government. We stand at a propitious moment.
Paul Olson is a retired president of the Blandin Foundation (firstname.lastname@example.org).