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Study says rural Minnesota has lost influence in policy decisions

A study by the nonprofit Center for Rural and Development says that rural Minnesota is losing its influence in policy decisions, and must work to get its voice back.

The study notes that Minnesota's rural population is aging and declining; fewer jobs are available in the rural economy and poverty is high in the rural areas.

The study, written by former gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner, was released today in preparation for Tuesday's opening of the legislative session.

Brad Finstad, executive director of CRPD said:

"This year’s agenda could include major reforms in tax, health and education policies, transportation funding and a possible bonding bill. The decisions made in each of these areas are critical to making the most of rural Minnesota’s opportunities and addressing our challenges. Rural Minnesota can’t be on the sidelines when these decisions are made. If rural falls behind the rest of the state on measures of economic and cultural success, the whole state will suffer."

A statement about the study says:

A key finding is that there are fewer leaders or organizations who are dominant and effective voices on behalf of broad rural Minnesota issues. Some traditional voices – including agriculture groups – have lost influence as natural resources and other Greater Minnesota industries are a smaller part of Minnesota’s economy.

Influence also is diminished as advocacy of rural Minnesota becomes more fragmented. "Rural communities often end up competing more aggressively with each other than joining forces to compete as a region," said the report. "Local chambers of commerce are recognized as important voices in rural Minnesota. However, they are under increasing pressure to deliver for their own communities. The incentives important to a chamber of commerce — retaining members and a local financial base — place greater emphasis on bringing a handful of jobs to a small community than on joining forces to compete for a regional win."

 One unnamed participant in the study concludes:

"What has always given me hope is that even the strongest metro advocates want rural Minnesota to succeed. There is a lot of goodwill in principle; the trick is to harness that into action, into development, into good policy for rural Minnesota."

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