Every school administrator in the room had already felt it, but the report added an extra layer of depth to the conversations we had been engaged in for months. We are short people. It has become harder to find employees across every sector of our organization. Our speaker was a state demographer. As she flipped through assorted charts, tables and line graphs, they all supported a common theme – there are more people exiting the labor force than there are people to replace them. Furthermore, this isn’t going to be a short-term problem. The analytics point to a labor shortage that will be prevalent for the next 8 - 10 years.
Minnesota isn’t going to solve this problem by thinking only within the state’s boundaries. It is going to take a multi-faceted approach that creates an environment where more people who are labor force contributors are moving into Minnesota from other states or other countries than are moving out.
Fast forward to a couple of days ago. A Center for the Arts was the site host to a community town hall meeting. The guest speaker was a gentleman named Dave Hengel, Executive Director of Greater Bemidji. He spoke about the journey Bemidji has taken to build a thriving economic hub in an area that many people would likely describe as “remote”. Having been raised, “Up North!” I found the story of Bemidji interesting, but that’s not what continues to stick with me.
Dave’s take on economic development has transformed over the years. Historically, the focus was on business development. While that’s important, my takeaway is that he considers “people development” to be even more important. How does a community - Bemidji, Grand Rapids, Fargo or Fergus Falls attract talented people? He believes high speed internet is essential to compete in a global economic market. He also believes in the investment in amenities that increase the quality of life and the presence of strong schools that can work in partnership with business and industry to connect students to employers and lay the foundation of skills and knowledge necessary to allow a fluid transition from school to work.
Locally, there is an opportunity to be part of a Welcoming Communities initiative sponsored by the City of Fergus Falls. Our community will be invited to provide input on our strengths and areas for growth. In a very pragmatic sense, the better we can become at being “welcoming,” the better chance we stand of continuing to grow our human capital. Attracting talented people increases our economic prosperity and engaged community members increase our quality of life. It seems plausible that those successes could produce enough positive energy to become self-perpetuating.
How does it happen? The same way every other good thing happens in a community. It takes a small group of committed people with good intentions and the energy to push forward. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead