The job market is good for job seekers

New graduate? Getting back into the workforce? Looking for a job upgrade? The Minneapolis Star Tribune has some good news…

There has seldom been a better time to go job hunting, particularly for new graduates and entry-level workers.

After many recessionary years of clawbacks and wage reductions when the employed were grateful even to have jobs, job seekers now find employers fighting to hire them. Wages are inching up — not enough, and not in all sectors, but it’s happening. Earlier this year a survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses showed that more than 30 percent of small businesses reported paying higher wages. Average U.S. hourly pay has risen nearly 3 percent, the biggest jump in nearly a decade.

To their delight, students looking for summer jobs have found plenty, many paying well above minimum wage and some even accompanied by modest benefit packages.

Particularly for workers just starting out, this may be the best labor market since the 1990s, said Steve Hine, director of labor market information for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. “We’re at 3.1 percent unemployment. For workers, we’re moving into a sellers’ market in a way we haven’t seen before.”

Brain Gain in Lac qui Parle County


The Daily Yonder recently featured Ben Winchester and the idea of the Brain Gain featuring towns like ours in LqP County…

Once upon a time, the story goes, rural America thrived, a land of golden fields dotted with wholesome communities of God-fearing farmers. Then the kids — especially the bright ones — left for the city. 

The school closed, and so did the hardware store and one of the churches, and now there’s just a post office and a convenience store where there was once a thriving business district. The post office is scheduled for closure. 

That’s the narrative told by too many rural commentators, casual and otherwise. It’s a narrative that University of Minnesota Extension researcher and rural cheerleader Ben Winchester forcefully opposes. 

“The stereotype is that there isn’t anybody left in rural America, and those that are, they’re all on opioids,” he said. “We need to re-write the rural narrative.” 

Winchester said that doom-and-gloom narratives aren’t justified. More people live in rural America now than did a generation ago, even if they make up a smaller piece of the American pie. 

“People don’t move to your town for pity,” Winchester said. “They move for opportunities. Nobody cares that you lost the hardware store 30 years ago… And we’re not all farmers. We haven’t all been farmers in 100 years.”  

Winchester looked at Census data to show that the so-called rural “brain drain” popularized in the 2009 book “Hollowing Out the Middle” is being countered by “brain gain.” Rural communities may be losing high school graduates, but they’re gaining residents with more skills and education, according to studies in Minnesota and Nebraska. In Minnesota, Winchester found that most rural Minnesota counties have gained 30- to 49-year-olds, early- to mid-career Minnesotans with significant resources and connections. 

Read more.

Be Kind Absolutely to Everyone

Reposted with permission from Jane Leonard, the new president of Growth & Justice.

“Be kind absouloutly to everyone!” was the message greeting me in the mudroom at my sister-in-law’s home in Missouri over the holiday break, on a hand-made sign created by my five-year-old grand-niece.

The words gave me pause to consider my guiding tenets as I begin my new job as president of Growth & Justice.   As the Minnesota policy world knows and as our website declares, we are a 15-year-old research and advocacy organization that seeks a more inclusive prosperity for Minnesota, through innovative public policy proposals based on independent research and civic engagement. We believe when Minnesota makes smart investments in practical progressive solutions, it leads to broader prosperity for all.

This persistent push for equity – emphasizing that social justice and greater shareholding by all is actually good for sustainable business growth –  really drives the work of Growth & Justice.  And reflecting on my grand-niece’s wise words, it occurred to me that there truly are unbreakable links between basic kindness and equity and growth and justice. These words all involve sharing our abundance, an important belief to re-embrace, especially when too many laws and policies coming from Washington D.C. emphasize scarcity and selfishness and fear of our neighbors.

Be kind absolutely to everyone. 

I reflected on what had transpired over the past turbulent year, when kindness and empathy diminished in national policy-making, and as democracy’s guiding moral pillars quake in the chaos.

Colleagues, friends, relatives, and political pundits from the left, center and right have all pointed to the irresponsibility (and the  lack of kindness and equity) of  the recently passed federal tax bill, especially in light of an economy that’s already enormously lucrative for those at the top.   An equitable, responsible tax bill would have built on the economic gains we’ve made in recent years, to close gaps and plant seeds for the future. It would have encouraged more investments in all the ways our democracy can create more abundance and share it: through investments in human capital and physical infrastructure, such as affordable health care, education, roads, bridges, broadband, clean water – the things that give a healthy return on that investment.  In addition to staggering new debt and worsening inequality,  the federal tax bill also actually reduces many incentives for non-profit, charitable giving, and increasing economic opportunity through community action.

Deeper down, however, the way the tax bill came together and passed was the ultimate act of irresponsibility in a year of massive assaults on our democracy.  That is perhaps the most worrisome characteristic of our political system today, because it means policy is no longer created by We the People. It is policy by fiat, decrees by the few without enough public input. We have an allegedly representative government as our Constitution sets out, but a slim majority of those elected representatives voted against the clear, overwhelming wishes of a majority of their constituents, to benefit a handful of ultra billionaire donors at the top of the economic heap.

I’m old enough to remember that this “voodoo’’ economic policy (a term coined by former Republican President George H.W. Bush, and who later in his career famously called for a “kinder, gentler nation”) ultimately breaks those promises and worsens economic conditions.  The voodoo attempted by President Reagan a generation ago almost tripled the national debt, weakened the middle-class and flipped the United States from being the world’s largest creditor nation to the world’s largest debtor in less than eight years.

It is in this fraught environment that I begin 2018 as the President of Growth & Justice. I take over from Dane Smith, who after 10 years at the helm, will continue as Senior Fellow in his transition to semi-retirement. I’m thankful for this, as together we make a formidable team. We’re both former journalists trained to get to the bottom of the story, and to shine the light on policy that is “kind absolutely to everyone,” to build an economy that is fairer and more prosperous across the board.

Be kind absolutely to everyone.

I come to Growth & Justice with a 35-year career in community, economic, and rural development behind me. I’ve worked in every sector and started a business, too. I just completed a three-year stint as the broadband grants administrator for the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development. There I had the honor of working with public and private sector partners to build out over 100 Border-to-Border Broadband grant projects constructing advanced  fiber, cable, and fixed wireless to thousands of households and businesses, and to hundreds of community institutions across unserved and underserved areas of Minnesota.

Border-to-Border Broadband construction, much like rural telephony and rural electrification 85 years ago, is one of the finest examples of  equity, and yes, kindness, on today’s policy stage.   It invests money from our common pot and kindly shares the wealth of the Twin Cities to equalize opportunity between urban and rural regions of the state.   It’s the old-fashioned Minnesota Way, a rural-urban socio-economic contract championed by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in the Minnesota Legislature.  It’s been supported by a non-partisan state broadband task force, by the Governor and Lt. Governor (now a United States Senator), and guided by a small office of dedicated public servants, motivated by an  indomitable “We Can Do It” spirit, aided by thousands of local broadband providers and local citizens and businesses.

Broadband supporters see universal statewide access as the right thing to do – the kind and just thing to do — to bring universal equity of opportunity and rural-urban interconnectedness across our state for the good of all.   And it is so very good for business, competitiveness and free enterprise.  In recent months as the first- and second-round grant projects finished and advanced broadband was “turned on” for the first time in homes and businesses, I witnessed first-hand a distinct upsurge of entrepreneurial energy. It’s always been there, but is now clearly amplified by robust connections to markets, to education, to health care and to government services in ways not possible just a year ago.  My hope is that the recent overturn of  “Net Neutrality’’  principles by the Federal Communications Commission will not snuff out this bright light of ingenuity and innovation.

Minnesota’s broadband policy exemplifies the “One Minnesota” concept also being championed by Growth & Justice and our partners across all policy areas.   Yes, we are a state of diverse regions with diverse economic drivers and cultural frames, diverse towns and neighborhoods, and diverse races and people.  AND, no matter where we call home, we know we must care about each other,  listen to each other, and look out for each other because we are also one gigantic family, one community, One Minnesota.  We are interdependent economically and socially whether we know it or not.  Instinctively, and sometimes intentionally, we understand that by helping one another through local acts of kindness and equity and statewide progressive policy, we have each other’s backs. That is how we survive and thrive in this seemingly cold, inhospitable northern clime. That is the Minnesota Way. Our hearts and minds and hands work together to keep our homes and enterprises warm and welcoming to all.

Be kind absolutely to everyone.

A recent visit to the Someday Isle microenterprise hub the in Isle-Wahkon area of Minnesota, on the southern shore of Lake Mille Lacs where my family farm is located,  got me thinking about the realities on the ground. It’s here and in similar co-working sites such as those in St. Paul and Minneapolis that you see inspiring grassroots efforts to create a sustainable and just economy at the local level.

What if state policy, in contrast to the federal tax bill, was focused in coming years on holistic local community development  and local microenterprise?  What if  our state policy and Minnesota tax bills supported more public/private investments in broadband infrastructure and digital literacy?  What if  state policy was a catalyst to invest in lifelong learning and affordable universal health care?  What if  state policy was “Kind Absolutely to Everyone?”  What if instead of tax giveaways and hand-outs to the wealthy, we concentrated on a fair hand-up to anyone seeking the opportunity to help their families, help their communities, and help start and strengthen businesses, across all economic and social strata?

In 2018 and beyond, these questions  will guide our research and story-telling, toward building and supporting coalitions, that lead to policy development,  that help create a more prosperous and progressive Minnesota, a state that continues to live up to its reputation for fairness.   At Growth & Justice, the goal is clear, and our journey will be guided in part by the wisdom of a precocious five-year-old: Be kind absolutely to everyone!

Happy New Year!

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Child Care for Economic Growth – policies at the MN Legislature

The Greater Minnesota Partnership and Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities recently posted a fact sheet on the Child Care Conundrum. The outline proposals this legislative session to address this problem…

  • Funding for Initiative Foundations to help expand access to quality childcare HF 2424 (Gunther)/SF 2090 (Nelson) provides $1.5 million for grants awarded to Initiative Foundations for the planning, coordination, training and education necessary to expand child care access. This proposal is based on a successful pilot program initiated by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation which helped child care providers with business improvement planning and quality mentoring with an aim toward the goal of becoming rated under Minnesota’s Parent Aware Quality Rating System.
  • Bonding & general fund appropriation for child care facilities HF 4032 (Gunther)/SF 3578 (Eken) provides $5 million in bonding and $5 million from the general fund to provide grants to local governments and non-profits in Greater Minnesota to cover up to 50% of the costs to build, upgrade or expand child care facilities to increase capacity and meet state requirements.
  • Grants to increase child care availability HF 3605 (Baker)/SF 3316 (Utke) allocates $519,000 to the Minnesota Child Care Grant Program, which aims to increase the supply of child care providers to support economic development. In 2017, this program received $519,000 in funding which created more than 300 new child care slots.

Top Ten Cybersecurity Tips

Great tips from the SBA

  1. Protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious code
  2. Secure your networks
  3. Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information
  4. Educate employees about cyberthreats and hold them accountable 
  5. Require employees to use strong passwords and to change them often 
  6. Employ best practices on payment cards 
  7. Make backup copies of important business data and information
  8. Control physical access to computers and network components
  9. Create a mobile device action plan
  10. Protect all pages on your public-facing websites, not just the checkout and sign-up pages


Celebrating Women in Energy: Anne Hunt with Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s Office

We’re celebrating Women’s History month by highlighting Women in Energy – thanks to Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries…

The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. CERTs is highlighting these leaders during the month of March in 2018, which is Women’s History Month. As part of the series we interviewed Anne Hunt, Former Environmental Policy Director for City of Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and how other women can get involved in the industry. Read on to learn more! Can you tell us a little bit about what you do in the energy world in Minnesota?   Anne Hunt: I was honored twelve years ago to be appointed by Mayor Chris Coleman to serve as the City of Saint Paul’s first sustainability director.

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Celebrating Women in Energy: Lynette Engelhardt Stott with Three Rivers Community Action

We’re celebrating Women’s History month by highlighting Women in Energy – thanks to Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries…

The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. CERTs is highlighting these leaders during the month of March in 2018, which is Women’s History Month. As part of the series we interviewed Lynette Engelhardt Stott, Energy Programs Coordinator with Three Rivers Community Action, to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and how other women can get involved in the industry. Read on to learn more! Can you tell us a little bit about what you do in the energy world in Minnesota?   Lynette Engelhardt Stott: I am the Energy Programs Coordinator at Three Rivers Community Action.

Read more.