Dan, a veteran of technology start-ups at age 29, made this point at a recent Citizens League forum: “Traditionally, people graduated from college, looked for a job, then moved to where that job was located, even if it was in another city. Today, people graduate from college, look for the city they want to live in, then move there to find a job.”

Young professionals like Dan are most attracted to communities with welcoming attitudes, cultural experiences, vibrant social life and physical beauty, according to a three-year study conducted by Gallup for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Twin Cities and Minnesota have fared well in this competition for young talent, but we need to keep investing in the quality of life.

Translated into policy, this means investments in transit, cultural amenities and green space. For example, consider how the greening of the Minneapolis riverfront has been a key catalyst in the explosion of residential and business development.

The policies needed to retain and attract young professionals also underscore the new thinking that lawmakers must bring to economic policies. To remain vibrant, Minnesota must be a place that fosters a robust marketplace of ideas and innovation. Keeping industrious entrepreneurs in Minnesota is an important element in creating that future.

Minnesota also should be a place that uses tax dollars more to create new ideas and products and less to subsidize individual jobs and businesses. For example, Shutterfly, an innovative online scrapbooking company, recently received $3 million in public money to move to Minnesota. In return, it will build a $60 million facility and create a few more than 300 permanent jobs. Not bad. But stack it up against robotics, an industry that Bill Gates, in a Scientific American article, said “may well change the world” and the potential return on the investment in a single company pales in comparison to what a new industry could mean to the state.

Minnesota is in the forefront of this emerging revolution, thanks in large part to knowledge created at the University of Minnesota. It can’t afford to lose its leadership, as we did with supercomputing and other technologies. The bonding bill in the 2014 legislative session will include requests from the state’s higher-education institutions for new labs and other research facilities. Public dollars invested in giving brilliant minds the resources to develop the industries of the future likely will have a better return than those spent to attract a high-tech scrapbook company that may or may not be relevant in a decade.

Many of these minds will be trained at our state two- and four-year colleges and universities. Historically, most graduates from the schools of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system remain in Minnesota’s workforce throughout their lifetimes. But the economy is changing, and so must our campuses.

That is why it so exciting to see the MnSCU system step forward with a new strategic plan, “Charting the Future.” This plan will better align campuses with the business community and current workforce needs. Competency testing will allow students to garner credit for real-life learnings, not just classroom attendance. In addition, transfer credits will be easier, making it possible for students to more smoothly move from one school to another without hassle. And, technology in the delivery of coursework will become a major priority. State policymakers would do well to support MnSCU’s forward-looking plan. Minnesota’s economic growth depends upon it.

Just as we invest in the education of our workers, we must also make sure that hard work pays. Certainly, government has a role in helping people at times in their lives when they are vulnerable. That role, though, should be transparent, targeted and effective. The debate over the minimum wage is a good example.

Minnesota probably is due for an increase in the minimum wage. But the so-called “living wage” levels currently being advocated are unrealistic and unwise. Better to couple a modest increase in the minimum wage along with an increase in the Working Family Credit. This refundable tax credit — workers can benefit even if they don’t earn enough to pay income taxes — is the partner to the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. The Working Family Credit targets assistance to heads of households who are struggling in low-wage jobs to support families, but does so in a way that doesn’t undermine entry-level jobs and opportunities for young and seasonal workers.

Minnesota’s future can be bright, for all workers. Creating that future, though, will take bold thinking from policymakers and investments in the technologies and education our workforce of tomorrow will require.


Tom Horner is a public-affairs consultant and was chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn. Tim Penny is president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and is a former Democratic member of Congress. Both are former Independence Party candidates for governor.