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Rural Pulse: Optimistic, but not welcoming

In the height of this election season, pollsters are busy making calls. More useful (and less annoying) are poll results from an ongoing survey called the Rural Pulse. Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation also spent the last year making calls - 1,144 calls, to be exact - to Greater Minnesota residents. Blandin Foundation conducts the Rural Pulse survey of rural Minnesota residents every three years to "gain a real-time snapshot of the concerns, perceptions and priorities of rural Minnesota residents."

This survey serves as a valuable compass to those of us working for economic prosperity and community vitality in Greater Minnesota, including Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). In their phone interviews, interviewers asked big and meaningful questions on issues where we're looking to move the needle: How optimistic do you feel about the future of your community? What are the most critical issues facing your community? Is your community a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds and perspectives?

The overall message was that rural Minnesotans are feeling optimistic, although there are still areas of concern. According to the report, "most rural Minnesotans feel their community is vibrant and resilient, though not all believe that they can shape its future." Sixty-nine percent of rural Minnesotans believe their community is a vibrant place to live and work. About three-quarters feel their communities collaborate effectively. Nearly a third feel their local economy has improved, though job growth and development remain top priorities.

One finding is worth noting: The survey found that nearly one-third of Minnesotans do not feel their community is welcoming to people of varying backgrounds and perspectives. This is a troubling finding, especially when demographic changes show we need to create inviting communities for "brain gainers" (young people seeking rural communities for the quality of life) and new immigrant communities seeking economic opportunities. Historically, we have seen that an increasingly diverse population enhances a culture of entrepreneurship and helps combat workforce shortages.

According to Blandin President Dr. Kathy Annette, "Diversity exists in rural places as well as big cities. Inclusion of diverse backgrounds, experiences, skills and perspectives can make our rural communities strong and vibrant. I encourage you to learn about and reflect on your own culture and how that has shaped your perceptions and beliefs, learn about the cultural backgrounds of people in your community, and interact and build relationships with a diverse array of people in your community."

The Rural Pulse breaks its survey results down by both urban/rural regions and by Minnesota Initiative Foundation regions (six total). In the findings for SMIF's region, 75 percent of residents feel their community is a vibrant place to live and work, compared to the overall 69 percent. The issues listed as most critical for our region are growing local job opportunities, attracting new business, healthcare and crime.

Another statistic that provides useful insight: when asked why they haven't served in a leadership role, 28 percent answered that they weren't asked. Our communities rely on invested volunteers and benefit from new leaders. Simply asking newcomers what they're interested in and how they'd like to be involved seems like an easy starting point.

We are lucky to have the Blandin Foundation as a partner in our region. In the past 30 years, Blandin staff have trained more than 7,000 rural Minnesota leaders in the ways of building and uniting communities through its Blandin Community Leadership Program. We are a stronger state when all of our residents feel ownership in their communities, are empowered to make change and are optimistic about the future.

For the full report and the southeast sub-report, visit I encourage you to take a look and share with your networks.

I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.

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