Rural, urban and Control Data

When people talk about ties that bind rural and urban Minnesota together, I think of Control Data.

In the pre-personal computer era so long ago, Control Data was one of the giants of the computer industry, building computers for airplanes, submarines, researchers and more. In an industry dominated by IBM, the Minnesota company built some of the fastest computers in the world.

It may have been exaggerated, but some sage explained to me once that the company succeeded because it was filled with young folks who grew up tinkering with tractors and hay balers and milking machines in rural Minnesota and who then went to the University of Minnesota and became world-class engineers. They knew how to make things work and woe to Control Data and Minnesota’s computer industry when the pipeline ran out. I don’t know if the pipeline ever ran out but certainly Minnesota’s computer industry bit the dust.

However accurate that is, when you think about rural-urban connections in Minnesota, it pretty much portrays a one-way road. The picture that emerged this evening in Morris when Minnesota Rural Partners explored the issue was much more robust.

The organization is trying to establish a council to look at rural-urban connections and, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is doing research on the variety of connections and trying to map them as well in coming months.

You can put the rural-urban connections into a bunch of categories, Kate Searls, working with Minnesota Rural Partners, told more than 100 participants in the Symposium on Small Towns:

Demographic links include the commuting patterns, the second homes, the movement of poor people from rural to urban settings, even prison populations that tend to go in the other direction.

Material links involve food, energy, water, waste, processed food, manufactured goods — all moving one way or the other.

The flow of money is another connection, including business development, the rise of buy-local movements, even philanthropy.

The University of Minnesota and, I would say, Minnesota Public Radio are examples of information flow.

Clearly, the more you think about it, the more you realize how all-encompassing is the network of ties between rural and urban. The evening was the warm-up for a look at small towns in Minnesota on Thursday — what successful ones are doing and what others might do to meet the challenges they face.

More tomorrow.

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