Rural Minnesota is in trouble. Young people are fleeing the farms and forests of the Gopher State, and the residents left there are aging. And they’re dying. While populations decline outstate, the Twin Cities area, especially the suburbs, booms.
A gloomy picture was painted at a Rural Legislative Forum last week in North Mankato, according to coverage by the Mankato Free Press. “This is a crisis, but it’s not like a bridge falling down on 35W. It’s hard to get people’s attention,” Jim Mulder, former executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, said at the event.
Mostly rural northeastern Minnesota, joined by just-as-rural northwestern Wisconsin — in other words, nearly all of the Northland — can take a lead in helping to sound the alarm about what’s happening.
There is reason for optimism, last week’s Rural Legislative Forum also made clear. Rural areas have natural resources, productive workforces and a quality of life that can be marketed to attract people and businesses, experts said. Technology allows many entrepreneurs and others to live anywhere, including in rural areas. And small towns can work together to better compete with metro areas and globally.
The demise of country living isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. A year ago this month, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a speech that rural America was “becoming less and less relevant” to government and to politicians. Vilsack had a point. A farm bill that expired at the end of September 2012 still hasn’t been replaced after almost never being stalled in the past. More people live in cities and suburbs. And President Obama, a Democrat, retained the White House despite overwhelming support for his Republican challenger in the nation’s rural areas.
But none of those are reason enough for elected leaders to ignore an entire segment of the population, as Vilsack said is happening. So let’s hear it, rural northeastern Minnesota and rural northwestern Wisconsin. There’s much to scream about — and to scream for.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE