Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. (To contribute, click here.) This article is a response to Star Tribune Opinion's June 4 call for submissions on the question: "Where does Minnesota go from here?" Read the full collection of responses here.
Progress — and Minnesota's future — must start with an honest appraisal. Amid the post-session victory or grievance commentaries, it can be hard to find a clear-eyed assessment.
The truth is, we are not One Minnesota right now. When we view each other primarily through the lens of red or blue, urban or rural, ''us'' or ''them,'' it is difficult to achieve our objectives across political, geographic, class or racial lines.
One objective that will define our future and require greater unity is our ability to navigate the transition to cleaner energy.
About 98% of Minnesota's landmass is classified as rural. Energy generation requires rural water, land and workers to meet the demands of a greener economy. Urban energy transitions are impossible without rural resources and people.
Yet rural communities and Native nations are too often sidelined in the conversations that directly impact them. Right now, these groups sometimes get an invite to the energy dinner but they are relegated to the kids' table in the corner when the meal is served. They should be full partners in the effort from the outset.
The failure to work as a cohesive state costs us all. Urban and rural areas are more interdependent than most people realize. A study by the University of Minnesota showed that our urban regions receive substantial economic benefits from the prosperity of their rural neighbors. Rural growth of $1 billion in the manufacturing sector alone grows urban jobs 15%, while a comparable decrease in rural manufacturing costs urban Minnesota 1,000 jobs and $207 million.
The reality is that rural and urban Minnesota need each other now more than ever. A 2018 study by the National League of Cities found that many rural areas actually outpace their urban counterparts in creating high-value businesses. Nationally, rural prosperity contributes to state economies at levels similar to those of urban areas. However, in Minnesota, rural prosperity contributes even more to our state's GDP than urban. Just imagine the reinforcing economic impact of an energy transition process that more fully engages the combined powers of urban and rural.
Lowering our voices, listening and learning will be central to making progress. Consider the recent decision by Huber Engineered Woods to abandon plans for a $440 million manufacturing facility in Cohasset, a small northeast Minnesota town. Even though the city was involved early on, the project's collapse has polarized the local business, tribal, environmental, community and timber interests, making it an ideal example of a process we can learn from and improve.
Yet, to date, no one has called the parties back together for such an analysis. On behalf of not just rural interests but those of the entire state, I will ask Gov. Tim Walz to convene a broad-based group to perform an objective and independent after-action review of the Huber project, with the goal of supporting sustainable energy models and resilient workforce structures. The assessment can identify areas for improvement and strategies for stronger collaboration among state and tribal governments, impacted communities and the private sector.
In addition to learning from our past efforts, we can look to models with successful track records. Community- and research-driven approaches like the one the Blandin Foundation spearheaded to expand the state's broadband access from 27% in 2003 to 95% today could be adapted to capture more local, state and global innovation.
Minnesota is already outpacing our neighbors and the rest of the country in reducing emissions. With community engagement as the building block of change, we can supercharge energy transitions and create a uniquely Minnesotan process that becomes an international template of collaboration and impact in tackling policy challenges.
I believe this outcome is within our reach. In my conversations across this state, whether from big towns or isolated villages, Anishinaabeg or fourth-generation farm families, Minnesotans speak of a deep desire to better their lives, communities and state. There is still common ground among us and at least a plurality who believe our intrinsic value is not dependent on who we are, how much money we make or where we live. The degree to which we embrace this belief will determine Minnesota's future.
Tuleah Palmer is the CEO and president of the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, Minn.