Short take: A checkup on rural Minnesota

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2011 - 7:02 PM
Lori Sturdevant

Lori Sturdevant

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Just as the old rural-urban divide comes back into sharp relief at the State Capitol, a new economic study conducted for Minnesota Rural Partners is quantifying how interdependent the state’s regions are.

Conducted as a national research pilot with U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the 18-month study found that when economic activity increases in one or more of Minnesota’s 80 non-metro counties, the seven metro counties see a quantifiable gain as well.

That’s not because rural dwellers come to the Mall of America to spend their new paychecks, stressed business research consultant Kate Searls, who led the study.

It’s because Minnesota’s economy is one network, not two. The ripple effect of spending outstate inevitably reaches the Twin Cities.

For example, the study found that a 6 percent growth in rural manufacturing output would lead to 6,500 new jobs – 1,040 of them in the metro area. Nearly 40 percent of the additional business sales that same rural manufacturing growth would generate would occur in the metro area.

The study did not examine the converse – how urban economic investment benefits those outside the metro area. But Searls said her intuition tells her that the state’s economic interconnectedness is “bidirectional,” and she hopes future research bears that out.

The Rural Partners study suggests that’s folly to aim to help Greater Minnesota by taking resources away from the urban area, as pending GOP-backed legislation this session tries to do.

Searls said her research demonstrates that in Minnesota, “if my neighbor is doing poorly, then my own quality of life is limited.”

Searls’ findings will be presented next Tuesday at a public forum at the University of Minnesota’s Continuing Education and Conference Center.

It’s something of a last hurrah for Minnesota Rural Partners, which expects to cease operations at the end of this year. That’s regrettable.

Judging from the urban-unfriendly budget proposals that have surfaced at the Capitol this year, Minnesota needs all the advocates it can get for the notion that this is one state, not two or three rival ones.

Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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