Sunday, November 13, 2011

Demographic Trends and Northern Minnesota's Future

MREA's Sam Walseth hosts legislative panel at the fall conference   (MREA Photo)
The Minnesota Rural Education Association held its annual conference earlier this month in Brainerd.  This content-rich, practitioner-led event takes full advantage of MREA's broad membership with presentations from teachers, administrators, board members, parents, consultants, researchers and students.  Despite notable differences, MREA's fall forum is a smaller, more intimate version of the TIES annual conference, a "must do" event for education leaders, technologists, teachers and integrationists.
More 65+ than School-age by 2020
Census counts & State Demographer projection, 2007

During the conference, State Demographer Tom Gillaspy delivered a data-driven overview of trends impacting the future of Minnesota.  We sometimes forget about the power of demographics and how data shapes destiny.  Fortunately, Gillaspy does a great job of demystifying his work, often connecting his material to a clear call to action.

State trends promise both challenges and opportunities for Minnesota, the Arrowhead region and the City of Duluth.  Drawing from the rich data base at the State Demographic Center, Gillaspy focused his remarks on a handful of key issues, especially the relationship between an educated workforce and a robust economy.  More on that in a moment.  Here's a snapshot of some of the insights from his presentation:
  • the economy will continue to stall with slow growth and a flat labor market
  • "talent" not "people" will be the scarce resource (Math anyone?)
  • productivity is not just for the private sector anymore (Government 2.0 take note)
  • the aging of society, particularly in the U-S and Minnesota, is a tidal wave
  • unprecedented disruptions and, in response, innovations will continue
The full presentation may be found at the Minnesota Rural Education Association web site.  (Click the link marked "Conference Follow-up" then "Tom Gillaspy.")

In helping to make sense of the data, Gillaspy focuses on two primary themes: educational investment and the New Normal.  Although the New Normal gets a lot of attention these days, Gillaspy defines it simply as the Old Normal + the Great Recession + long-term Demographic Changes.  Simple, elegant...makes sense.  Gillaspy's second theme revolves around the relationship between education and the economy.  As have others, the State Demographer makes a strong case for educational investment as a critical pathway for economic sustainability, innovation and productivity. 

In fact, the relationship between education and the economy resonates across a significant thread of society, including leaders in science, technology, business and education.  This notion, however, is often advanced in the context of preparation, quality and rigor across the board...all aspects of the New Normal.  While these challenges may be significant, rural Minnesota, especially Northern Minnesota, is well-positioned to leverage community resources and scale nimble assets in order to turn challenges into opportunities.

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