Outstate Minnesota City Aided by Immigrants

As noted in a prior post, a banker in Worthington, a city in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, estimated immigrants own more than a quarter of the businesses operating in that community. “If we embrace it, it’s what’s going to help rural Minnesota grow again.”

This report was amplified in an August 4 article in the StarTribune, Minnesota’s leading newspaper while another recent article addressed the general problems of outstate Minnesota.

 Additional Report on Worthington, Minnesota[1]

This city’s population has surged from fewer than 10,000 in 1990 to more than 13,000 today and its residents expect it to exceed 14,000 in the near future with immigrants constituting roughly one-third of the population.  And the median age is under 36.

Some of the immigrants are entrepreneurs, who described the difficulties they had in getting their businesses started and frustration over lack of stores with their favorite foods and police forces still almost exclusively locally born white people. But they still expressed optimism about their future in this community.

One of the largest employers in the town, JBS USA pork processing plant, has employees who are native speakers of at least 50 languages and dialects. The company seems supportive of its largely immigrant workforce with its human resources director helping an immigrant community form their own church.

Worthington recently was visited by  Neel Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. At a community meeting in the town he said, “If you do the math, there are three choices we have as a society. One choice is just accept slower growth. A second choice is to subsidize [human] fertility. Or number three, you can embrace immigration. Now the advantage we have in the U.S. is that, while we are not perfect, we are better than just about any other country at embracing immigrants and integrating them in our society.”

 “A Social Contract for Rural Minnesota”

Another recent article in the StarTribune lamented the struggles of “many of our smallest towns . . . to stay relevant” as their aging populations decline.[2] The author, Jim Mulder, the retired executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties and an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and a policy fellow at Growth and Justice, therefore, proposed a Social Contract for Rural Minnesota with the following six elements:

  1. Education. Develop “new tools and strategies for educating children in sparsely populated areas. . . . [that] focus on outcomes, not on structure and process.”
  2. Health care. With a “shortage of physicians, dentists and mental health professionals . . . . [we must use] mobile health clinics, . . .by housing county social service and public health officials [closer to the people, by aggressively using] nurse practitioners and physician assistants [and by providing ] transportation services for the elderly to get to care providers].”
  3. Housing. Provide assistance to residents to meet their housing needs, including improving the housing quality.
  4. Transportation. Invest in better roads and bridges and transit of all types.
  5. Public infrastructure. Fund and build right-sized water and sewer systems.
  6. Economic development. Increase jobs.

Analysis of the Social Contract for Rural Minnesota

Although I liked the idea of a social contract for rural Minnesota, I thought the one proposed by Mr. Mulder missed the key issue. Therefore, I wrote the following letter to the Editor of the StarTribune, which was published on August 5:

  • “While I agree with Jim Mulder that we need “a shared commitment to success for one Minnesota” (“One Minnesota: Your undivided attention, please,”Opinion Exchange, July 29), his “Social contract for Rural Minnesota” misses the point.”
  • “We all know that rural Minnesota has an aging and declining population, which underlies all the problems he seeks to address. Thus, these parts of the state need more and younger people, and the obvious source of such people is more immigration. This point was made by an editorial in the Mankato Free Press that the Star Tribune reprinted (“The immigrant workforce: It’s critical for Minnesota’s economy,” July 24).”
  • “Thus, the social contract requires development of welcoming rural communities for people from all over the world.”

====================================

[1] Schafer, Immigration and Immigrants are a positive force in Worthington, StarTribune (August 5, 2018).

[2] Mulder, One Minnesota: YOUR UNDIVIDED Attention, Please, StarTribune at OP1 (July 29, 2018).