The Twin Cities may be flyover country, but it sure seems that a lot of reporters and think-tank analysts are getting routed through Minneapolis and St. Paul lately. This is great news, since in general they like (and laud) what they find here. The PBS NewsHour came to report, and articles like the much-discussed Atlantic magazine piece, “The Miracle of Minneapolis,” generally confirm our observation that the Twin Cities are a vibrant metropolitan model for the nation.
But there are also well-recognized challenges to this national model for metro vitality (and, by extension, the nation itself). That’s just one of the conclusions of a compelling analysis titled “The Changing Face of the Heartland: Preparing America’s Diverse Workforce for Tomorrow.” Written as a Brookings Institution essay by Jennifer Bradley, director of the Center for Urban Innovation at the Aspen Institute, it’s a deep exploration of demographic trends and the uncharted terrain ahead.
Homegrown growth, increased immigration and refugee resettlement have set off what Bradley calls a “demographic revolution” in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. If these dynamics lead to population and economic growth it’s great news, especially compared to the stagnation of Europe, Japan and other places facing nation-changing challenges of low birthrates amid high resistance to immigration.
But the analysis should also act as yet another wake-up call that this increased diversity must be met with increased efforts to close the chronic racial education gap — as well as the employment gap, which the essay calls “appalling.” Failure to do so might mean the region “will not have a sufficiently skilled workforce to maintain, much less grow, its economy. That could have potentially disastrous results.”
The study takes note of the region’s iconic-brand companies, which rely on “the state’s distinctive advantage — a highly skilled workforce.” And it suggests that these workforce implications have helped transform “what had been a moral (and insufficiently effective) commitment to its underserved communities into an economic necessity.”
Indeed, key business and political leaders are already aware that workforce development is the fundamental ingredient needed to keep Minnesota economically competitive. And diversity may be able to open new markets, especially for a region rich in African and Southeast Asian immigrants, who bring new talents — and old ties — from their original nations.
Solutions will be as complex as the challenge itself. The Brookings essay does not prescribe specific actions, and that’s as it should be. After all, it will be up to local leaders, many of whom are already deeply committed to the effort, which the study acknowledges. But the speed and size of the demographic revolution suggests that even more will be needed from leaders of every sector to prepare for an increasingly diverse society and workforce.