How does it make sense that two out of three people in outstate Minnesota think local job opportunities are insufficient, yet they overwhelmingly think their community has adequate access to technology?
Those are two of the intriguing findings in the Blandin Foundation’s latest Rural Pulse survey of Minnesotans who live in cities of fewer than 35,000 residents. Check out MPR News reporter Tom Robertson’s report today and the results at the Blandin site.
It’s hardly surprising in this economy that job creation would be on people’s minds. When Blandin took the survey in 2000, 53 percent of rural Minnesota felt their communities were inadequate when it came to living-wage job opportunities. Now 65 percent think that.
What’s more, the poll found, high quality jobs are far and away people’s top priority. And a third of young people said they have considered moving to a larger city, mainly for job reasons.
All over Minnesota, economic development officials charged with addressing this problem will tell you there’s not much they or their communities can do about it in the 21st Century without high-speed access to the information highway. Without the Internet, they say, companies will lose market opportunities or will refuse to tap a ready labor market, schools will lose their edge, health care providers will not be able to keep up.
In other words, the existing technology is not adequate, they are saying.
So why would 86 percent of those residents surveyed say it is?
One answer is that we like to think highly of our specific place and the people we know. We hate Congress but love our representative. Poll respondents by and large also said their roads, bridges and health care providers were adequate, too, at a time bridge studies and rural health care reports give reason for concern.
But a second reason is that there’s a disconnect, understandable but an obstacle.
“The technology is so vast, it’s hard for me to fathom,” says Pam Lehman, the economic development director for Lac qui Parle County in western Minnesota. The county has embarked on a fiber-to-the-home project, backed by federal stimulus money. “I can see the value and see the impact, but the average person at home has a harder time.
“I think there’s some disconnect that way. It’s an uphill battle.”
That’s why Lehman and lots of others around Minnesota are taking the little steps to educate people, get them to use computers, make sure their businesses have reliable web presence. In an odd way, they are trying to convince people that once they realize the potential they will think that, no, their communities don’t have adequate technology.
Maybe for emails and even YouTube downloads, it’s OK. But for those high-value jobs, not so much.