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.”

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[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).

Outstate Minnesota Newspaper Stresses Need for Immigrants

Mankato is a regional center of nearly 41,000 people in south central Minnesota. Its newspaper,The Mankato Free Press. has endorsed the importance of immigrants in the rural parts of the state. It said in an editorial, “Here, in the south-central area of the state, we have seen . . . reliance on a diverse workforce both in small cities and in the regional center of Mankato. Meat plants in St. James, Madelia, Butterfield and Windom [smaller cities in southwestern Minnesota] depend heavily on minority workers. Mankato manufacturing plants also hire immigrant workers and a number of immigrants have become small-business owners.”[1]

Moreover, they are “the only population group still growing in Minnesota, according to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit policy research organization based in Mankato. The Minnesota State Demographic Center says the percent of Minnesota’s population represented by people of color (those self-identifying as one or more races other than white, and/or Latino) is projected to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent by 2035.”

“So no matter what people’s level of acceptance of diversity is on a personal level, the reality is that the economy needs immigrants — and always has. Hoping young people will return to their rural hometowns after college to work is not happening, at least not in numbers needed to keep communities viable.”

“Population projections predict that as baby boomers retire, enough workers won’t be available to fill the vacant jobs in Minnesota. Our newest segments of population are going to be key to keeping our businesses going. And a continuing tradition of strong public education in Minnesota, with the financial support it deserves, should help train those workers of today and tomorrow.

This editorial was prompted by recent remarks by Neel Kashkari, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and by Greg Raymo, a Worthington, Minnesota banker. Kashkari said, “immigrants are helping [Worthington] grow, something many communities in rural parts of the state can only hope for’ while Raymo had “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,’ said . . . Raymo.”

This editorial reiterates points made in previous posts to this blog.[2]

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[1] Editorial, Our view: Immigrants needed for healthy economy, Mankato Free Press (July 14, 2018).

[2] E.g., More Immigrants Needed in U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (June 23, 2018).