Redefining competitiveness

In a recent Star Tribune editorial, Growth & Justice president Dane Smith challenges us to think about how we perceive competitiveness. He argues that the focus has been narrow for far too long, emphasizing “cheap labor and lower taxes.”

Smith says that, instead, competitiveness  should be defined by what is done to increase human potential.

This re-framing of competitiveness is reflected in work that leaders are doing to build healthy rural communities across Minnesota.

One way is through the use of strong broadband networks. Now, people living in the farthest corners of Minnesota can do business across the world, all while contributing to their home community through their time, talent and treasures. Red Wing, Minnesota has been a leader on this front. Through their Red Wing Ignite initiative, the community is investing in technology to spur innovation and bolster their community’s competitiveness.

Running adjacent to Smith’s editorial was an article on Senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) and his push to pass legislation that would bring high-speed Internet to un- and under-served rural Minnesota communities.

In the article, Star Tribune columnist Lori Sturdevant compares broadband connectivity to rural electrification, saying

Electricity on the nation’s farms was about a lot more than lights. Eventually, it was about milking machines, water pumps, choppers, refrigeration. It powered heat lamps for Grandma’s broods of baby chicks.

By the same token, high-speed Internet in Greater Minnesota isn’t about entertainment. It’s about participation in the modern economy — agriculture, manufacturing, retail, health care, education. In every realm, robust, affordable Internet service is now essential infrastructure. As of last year, fewer than half of Greater Minnesota dwellers had it.

In short, broadband is an essential ingredient for economic opportunity in a healthy community.

Another essential ingredient is inclusiveness. Worthington, Minnesota has a long tradition of welcoming new and immigrant residents. Community leaders have collaborated to create a full range of resources such as computer literacy classes in multiple languages that connect community members to each other and to opportunities. Seasoned and emerging leaders recently completed leadership training geared to assist them in continuing to build on this strength.

Forward Fergus Falls is taking a close look at all the dimensions of a healthy community, identifying their assets, and investing in the ways to increase the potential for their residents.

These are just a few examples of healthy, rural communities working to become competitive by being a healthy community.

In healthy communities, economies thrive because they have a holistic view of what it means to be competitive.   They invest in early childhood education, broadband, transportation, etc. in order to attract and retain talent. It will be these places, that invest in all the ingredients, that will celebrate “the win.”