We asked and rural MN spoke: CPRD’s upcoming research agenda

chalkboard with words online survey

By Marnie Werner, Research Director

So, what keeps you up at night, worrying about rural Minnesota?

Is it economic development? Housing? Access to healthcare? Long-term care? Child care? The deepening workforce shortage?

These are the types of concerns the Center was created to research: subjects that may be universal for the whole state, but have a unique spin, a unique basket of implications for rural areas, those counties that don’t have a dense enough population to create economies of scale that cut the costs of business and service delivery as would happen in a large city.

For many years we came up with our own list of research topics, but about ten years ago, we decided we needed to cast a wider net, just to confirm what we were seeing and to maybe pull in something we weren’t thinking of. That net is our annual Thought Leader survey. This year we sent it out to about 3,000 people across the state: our subscribers, state legislators, local officials, newspaper editors, and others who make decisions every day that affect life in Greater Minnesota. 

And now the results are in! Based on responses from 321 participants (as of May 25), our board of directors has approved the list of research priorities for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. And here they are:


Center for Rural Policy & Development
2022 Thought Leader Survey

Top 10 responses 

Percent marked “urgent”


How severe is the mental health care shortage in rural MN and what’s being done to alleviate access issues for rural residents?



How many workers does each region need to not only fill their current workforce shortages, but also the projected shortages? How do projected occupational needs vary across rural Minnesota?



Because it’s hard to incentivize developers to build housing in rural areas, often the only option for housing construction in rural areas are small businesses and carpentry operations. What financing and regulatory policies could help rural communities incentivize smaller-scale housing development?



What, specifically, can the state do to support workforce recruitment initiatives in our rural areas?



What is the composition of housing across rural Minnesota and does it match the needs of the residents? How much new construction is currently happening?



Consolidating medical services from small, rural clinics to larger, metro-based clinics is a strategy being implemented to curb healthcare costs. How have these consolidations impacted rural EMS agencies?



What has been the impact of recent inflation in rural MN, and is it affecting rural residents differently than urban residents?



What are the trends in the rural job and workforce environment post-COVID?



Health care providers and rural patients were thrust into the world of telehealth due to the pandemic. Based on this experience, what have we learned? Is telehealth still viewed as a viable strategy to improve access for rural patients and reduce health care costs?



There is a constant argument between rural and metro areas in the amount of transportation infrastructure investments each receives. Are there significant differences in these investments?


Respondents were asked to look at each topic and rate its importance: “urgent,” “important but not urgent,” or “not important.” The mental healthcare shortage in rural Minnesota came out on top with 70% of respondents marking it as “urgent,” which makes sense: the pandemic made it painfully clear how difficult it has become to deliver mental health services in rural areas. 

The rest of the topics concerned the workforce shortage and housing, two closely related issues, along with EMS services, inflation, and transportation infrastructure funding. We’ll focus on research questions 1-6 first. Questions 7-10 will be held in reserve in case one of the higher-up issues falls through. 

We have our work cut out for us, but this kind of research, the kind that gets to the heart of issues, figuring out not just what the issue looks like but what makes it tick, is what motivates us. To find real, lasting solutions, it’s not enough to identify an issue; you need to understand what’s causing it and what’s feeding it. 

We’ve done a lot of that already with these topics. Now it’s time to branch out and investigate related aspects, including how these problems are manifesting themselves in our day-to-day lives. The more we understand, the closer we come to lasting solutions and a more vibrant, successful rural Minnesota.