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Informed southeast Minnesota communities come together on economic improvements

Brigid Tuck presents to roomful of people
Brigid Tuck, Extension Senior Economic Analyst

A presentation by Brigid Tuck, University of Minnesota Extension Senior Economic Analyst, has
given inspiration to ongoing conversations in the 11-county region in southeast Minnesota.

Tuck shared reports examining the economic composition and performance of Minnesota’s twelve economic development regions with a crowd of 545 at the Southeastern Minnesota Economic Summit, hosted by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce in September, 2016. Both before and after the summit, she and other Extension specialists and educators toured communities and engaged in conversations with residents of Faribault, Goodview, and Oronoco on their economic futures.

People in small group discussion around table
Oronoco MN
Community Economic Design Day was a new community and economic development concept that was tested in Goodview and Oronoco, for example. Erin Meier from Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnership and Bruce Schwartau, Extension educator, serve on the leadership team of a grassroots organization called Southeast Minnesota Together (SEMNT). Grant funding from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation helped SEMNT bring together citizens and professionals to join discussions on workforce shortage challenges and develop activities that create a spirit of cooperation in addressing these issues. A second goal was to help smaller cities with limited professional staff in community and economic development issues.

The cities of Goodview and Oronoco have very limited professional economic development staff and asked for assistance in planning the best next steps that their cities could make. The Extension team joined other experienced community development professionals in listening to primary concerns from local leaders, and formulating some of the “best next steps” that these cities could consider.

Tuck completed an economic impact report for Faribault, which is explained in the Faribault Daily News. Faribault has been engaging with Extension for over a year to understand the economic strengths of the community. Deanna Kuennen, Community and Economic Development Director, notes, "Because the report is strength-focused, we’ve been using it to inform new decisions and develop programming based on strengths."

"I've had the best of both worlds with this work," says Tuck. "I get to analyze the data, but also to meet with people in the communities and hear more information and their perspectives."

Southeast regional economy
According to Extension's analysis, Southeast Minnesota’s economy is strong and healthy. Year-over-year employment growth in the Rochester Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was 2.1 percent, compared to Minnesota’s 1.3 percent. In addition, the total number of jobs in the 11 counties in 2015 exceeded those of peak employment in 2007.

"Southeast Minnesota’s strengths lie in its diversity," says Brigid Tuck. She notes that manufacturing, the leading source of economic output in the region, is diverse both in geography and in composition. Each of the eleven counties has its own manufacturing base, distributing the benefits of jobs and revenue across the region.

The region hosts a variety of manufacturing activities, such as computer, food, fabricated metal, and machinery manufacturing. The region is better situated to weather economic downturns due to this diversity.

Growth in the region has been driven by health care, administrative and waste management, and management of companies. Between 2001 and 2015, the region added over 2,000 high-paying management jobs.

Challenges ahead
The region, like the state, faces challenges. First, four years of low prices for agricultural commodities will affect Greater Minnesota. Second, labor force growth is slowing. Minnesota businesses will be competing for workers. Finally, demographics are changing. Retiring baby boomers will likely rewrite the picture of retirement. In the meantime, millennials entering the workforce may very likely rewrite the workplace narrative. Communities fortunate to experience labor force growth will find that growth coming from new and diverse populations.

As reported by the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Eric Miller, human resources director for Rochester manufacturer Crenlo said, "People have options … They can go wherever they want. It's a challenging environment. That's why it is important to focus on innovation and employee development. We need to give people reasons to stay."

For more information, visit Extension's economic impact analysis website.
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