Vital Connections newsletter articles and podcasts
To subscribe to Vital Connections, please email Joyce Hoelting.
July 2017 podcast
Communities have the power to tell their own story. Litchfield, Minnesota has been working to create a narrative that is optimistic and focused on the future.
June 2017 podcast
We often hear that small, rural communities are disappearing. Ben Winchester, Senior Research Fellow for U of M Extension's Center for Community Vitality, joins us to talk about what is actually happening.
Visitors come to your community with expectations about what they will do and see in your area. But what are those expectations exactly? Communities need to know in order to market their destination and keep their offerings fresh, so that visitors keep coming back.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) recently released a study about the economic and health impacts of bicycling in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota Tourism Center contributed to this research by studying the economic impact of bicycling events in Minnesota.
Two of every three businesses in the U.S. are owned by a baby boomer looking to turn over the keys to the next generation in the coming years. That means change is inevitable in the landscape of Minnesota’s Main Streets and business communities.
Five generations of Minnesotans are now living and working together in communities and challenging each other to work across differences. “Community members of all ages can work well together, especially if they know the mindsets, expectations, and work styles of each generation,” says leadership and civic engagement educator Lisa Hinz. “All too often, the differences between generations, rather than the areas of opportunity, shape how people work together.”
Like most American institutions, the rural grocery store is facing change. Big box competition from nearby towns is fierce. Many of their customers travel freely to larger towns nearby. And the graying of the American workforce means pending retirement among rural grocery store owners who have played a vital role in small town community life for decades.
In communities across Greater Minnesota, graduates of Extension's leadership education programs are stepping up to make a difference in the places where they live and work. As they step up, these emerging leaders are also making a choice about how they will lead in their communities.
"Communities will always have a need for more leadership," says leadership and civic engagement educator Lori Rothstein, "and being intentional about how you choose to lead is important."
From bass fishing to biking and skiing to snow shoeing, rural Minnesota offers tourists opportunities for fun and relaxation.
And tourists bring good things to rural Minnesota, too. Rural Minnesota has a 28% share of the nearly 13 billion dollar pie of annual gross sales in the leisure and hospitality industry, and 31% of the 250,117 jobs in private sector employment.
A visit to Willmar, Minnesota's Vision 20/40 website makes creating community change look easy. There, you can read about a five-point plan to prepare for Willmar's future. In 2015, they made progress on each of four goals and added a fifth. More than 150 volunteers are working on the plan.
If community groups are to find good answers, it is important they ask the right questions. The right question can propel a group forward in a positive way while the wrong one can pull them backward.
That's why asking questions is a leadership skill worth studying. Facilitators and informed group participants should be ready to ask the right question at the right time.
Second homeowners are an integral part of the social and economic fabric of communities in the Central and West Central lakes districts of Minnesota. Community economics educators Ryan Pesch and Merritt Bussiere recently studied second homeowners in eight counties of Central and West Central Minnesota.
It's not your grandparents' Greater Minnesota anymore. You know, the Greater Minnesota dominated by the industries of its founders - agriculture and mining.
While agriculture and mining are still important, Greater Minnesota is now a richer blend of economic interests and opportunities. That's the biggest thing Extension Economic Analyst Brigid Tuck and her team of Extension educators saw when they set out to describe the economic composition of Greater Minnesota - its economic drivers, strengths and concerns.
In community leadership, having a good sense of self can help you relate well to others. But knowing yourself means spending some time looking inward. Just ask Paul Torkelson. Torkelson applied what he learned about himself while participating in the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership Program (MARL) to help him think about his leadership in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Before a community event is a success or an economic development strategy is implemented, a community meeting takes place—or more likely, a bunch of meetings. That makes leading good community meetings pretty important.
When a Walmart Supercenter opened in Winona, Minnesota in 2003, there was definitely a churning among local businesses. "Businesses get concerned," says Della Schmidt, president of the Winona Chamber of Commerce. "Some retail operations that were already struggling chose to close their businesses. But others were attracted to Winona or stayed in town because Walmart made us more of a regional center."
Minnesota's voter turnout is impressive — almost 19 percent higher than the rest of the nation's over the past decade. But, is voting all it takes to sustain a thriving democracy? A study conducted by the Bush Foundation considered deeper questions about Minnesota's civic life. They found that about half of those surveyed felt their community was strong when it comes to working on problems together.
A Ramsey County Master Gardeners (RCMG) volunteer works with kids in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. RCMG volunteers participated in a ripple-effect mapping session to evaluate outcomes and build relationships.
Ripples are tiny waves generated when someone drops a stone into the water. But ripple effect mapping is generating some big waves in the world of evaluation.
Most in the Minnesota tourism industry agree there are advantages to applying sustainability practices to their business, but implementation is slowed by their perception of high costs.
The year 2013 brought improved economic news to much of Minnesota, but a few towns took some hard knocks. Town and business leaders are left asking, "What now?" while employees and their families must make critical decisions about their future.
Politicians and corporations are now realizing they may not be able to succeed unless they understand what's in the hearts and on the minds of the burgeoning Latino population in America. But this isn't news to many communities in Minnesota with growing Latino populations.
"I've always thought being a good follower is as important as being a good leader," says Holly Anderson. "They're both part of a team, and teamwork is how you get things done in a community."
“Green” and sustainable building construction, social network game development, solar panel manufacturing, Pilates and yoga studios — these are a few of the fastest growing industries across the United States in the past decade. Local food growers are working to have their day in the sun, too. And rural leaders are anxious to see how local food production might diversify and strengthen their economy — adding local producers to traditional agriculture, manufacturing, education and health care as economic drivers in Greater Minnesota.
Retail is a mainstay for Minnesota’s economy, accounting for 5.4 percent of the state’s economic output and 282,700 part-time and full-time jobs. That’s an important contribution. But look deeper. The contributions of Minnesota’s shops and retail go beyond economic success. “Minnesota’s communities need a strong retail sector,” says Matt Kane, program leader for Extension’s Community Economics programs. “Successful retail keeps communities vibrant. And the civic contributions of retailers can’t be overlooked. From supporting a local sports team to spearheading community events, retailers keep communities vital. Some also create public spaces where community conversations happen.”
Minnesota State Economist Tom Stinson is bullish on Minnesota. "Minnesota has been very successful — especially for a cold weather state at the end of the road," says Stinson, a University of Minnesota Extension economist and a professor of Applied Economics. But what about the future? "That's unclear," Stinson says. "Recent economic and demographic events have changed the outlook as far as we can see."
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