By Marnie Werner, Vice President, Research & Operations
The beating heart of what we do here at the Center for Rural Policy and Development is our research—research pure and simple on policy issues that matter to rural Minnesota.
It’s the beginning of the fiscal year for us, which means a new start to not just our financial calendar, but also our research calendar. In the new year, we’ll be tackling projects that cover new topics, and we’ll be revisiting some familiar ones, too.
When we assemble our research agenda each year, it’s important that it be more than just us staff, or even our board members, sitting around a table coming up with ideas that seem important to us. That’s why we conduct an annual survey of “thought leaders” around the state. You may be one of those thought leaders on our list, in which case, you would have received an invitation to complete our survey. If you did, thanks for contributing to the direction of our research!
This year’s survey results produced some predictable priorities and also some surprises. Here, recently approved by our board, is the lineup of research projects for fiscal year 2020:
Agriculture: What are the implications of the current downturn in the ag economy for rural communities?
Child care: CRPD recently conducted a survey identifying primary cost drivers and other pressure points in providing child care. Are there specific regulations driving these issues? If so, which ones?
Health care: A large number of hospitals and clinics in Greater Minnesota have consolidated over the last five to ten years. Have these consolidations impacted access to required or basic health care services in these communities? If so, how?
Public safety & social services: CRPD’s 2018 report on addiction showed a significant increase in opioid and/or meth use across the state. What impact is this having on social services provided by counties in Greater Minnesota? How does it differ from metropolitan counties?
Economic development: CRPD’s research has highlighted that businesses in Greater Minnesota have been feeling the workforce shortage acutely due to economic growth and demographic changes. In what ways are these businesses adapting to this issue beyond working harder to attract workers? How are they continuing to do business and how has this trend impacted their future sustainability?
Agriculture & water: There is a great deal of discussion concerning farm practices and water quality in Greater Minnesota. What are the views on water quality and sources of impairment among the primary stakeholders, including ag producers, local government, and the state (i.e., MN Dept. of Health, DNR, MDA)?
Economic development: The decline in the number of grocery stores in our more rural communities is well-documented. What solutions have organizations and communities adopted to ensure that our most vulnerable populations (elderly, households in poverty, etc.) continue to have access to healthy groceries? What are best practices and solutions?
Broadband: In recent years there have been a number of initiatives to supply broadband to residents across rural Minnesota. What economic and cultural impacts have they had for their communities and are they sustainable?
These projects are ranked in the order of priority the survey respondents gave them, with the questions regarding the ag economy and child care tying for first. We also broke out the responses by groups: legislators, local newspaper editors and publishers, and everyone else, and even then, the order of priority was remarkably similar across all three groups.
Staff will be getting together in a couple weeks to discuss our approach to each project. Some of these projects are asking pretty big questions and may take longer than others, while some may warrant a shorter report. There may even be one or two we don’t complete. Sometimes a research project, once we start looking into it, simply doesn’t pan out and we have to set it aside for future reference.
But each of these topics is important, and we know that because you told us so. For that reason, each project will get the attention and scrutiny it deserves as we embark on our new year of research. There is so much to talk about in rural Minnesota. We’re looking forward to raising the questions and finding the answers that will help rural places grow and thrive.
In other news of note, we’ll be starting a monthly newsletter in September. If you would like to keep up on what’s happening at the Center, just go to our web site and sign up for our email list at the “ENews Signup” tab.