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Thursday, February 22, 2018

What's Data Got to Do with It?

U of M Extension invites you to join our inaugural Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) webinar on February 27, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. (CST).  This event will kick off a series of webinars featuring research and innovation in BR&E.  The webinars are FREE and open to all those who are interested in economic development.

What's Data Got to Do with It?  In 2017, U of M Extension interviewed 23 economic development officials across Minnesota to learn about their professional practice of BR&E.  The in-depth interview data were compiled and analyzed using qualitative research methods and a report will be published.  Michael Darger, BR&E specialist for U of M Extension's Center for Community Vitality, will share key research and findings from the study.  He will be joined by special guest, Stephen Morris, who will discuss Ontario's provincial BR&E program and how they are using data to inform economic development in communities across the province.

The webinar series will help you learn about current topics in training and expanding businesses while creating a community of practice for BR&E practitioners.  Webinars are offered through WebEx and do not require pre-registration.  Join the session on February 27 at 9:00 a.m. (CST) using this LINK and watch this page to learn about future offerings!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Vital Connections on Air Episode 6: Minnesota's Workforce

Minnesota has a variety of workforce challenges. In Vital Connections on Air Episode 6: Minnesota's Workforce, Laura Kalambokidis discusses how the state's tight labor market presents challenges for both employers and community members searching for creative solutions. Today's guest blogger, Michael Darger, shares his insights on this issue, as well as information about Extension's Business Retention and Expansion program.

Businesses need many resources to succeed, but which resource matters most? Strong management? Raw materials and supplies? Customers? Local support? Each is important, but most business leaders would agree that a talented workforce is crucial to success. To survive and thrive in today’s workforce environment, Minnesota businesses need skilled employees.

Quality workers—and a plentiful supply of them—are a strength of Minnesota’s economy. Despite the cold climate and perception of a higher tax environment, business has thrived here. As a result, Minnesotans benefit from above average incomes and a high quality of life. These advantages stem from our investment in education  and a quality work ethic. Still, there are, warning signals flashing about our workforce, both present and future, and we need to pay attention.

For many years, Extension has helped Minnesota communities survey local businesses through its Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) program. In recent years, BR&E survey data reveals that local businesses see a tightening availability of a skilled workforce as the most important issue. This finding is backed up by local Minnesota economic development officials (EDOs) who were interviewed this year for a BR&E research project. “If you go to a business, they're all talking about the same thing—there's not enough workers,” said one EDO. Another stated, “We are in desperate need of more employees. For all of our businesses, the struggle to find employees is getting harder.”

As Laura Kalambokidis explains, the workforce shortage in Minnesota is real and likely to grow since we have a large group of people (baby boomers) leaving the workforce. People are also moving from northern states like Minnesota to the South and West. (For example, Florida’s population increased by eight million people since 1990.) In a time of monster hurricanes, such as Harvey, Irma, and Katrina, however, these migrations might slow down or even reverse themselves. Still, it is clear that immigration to Minnesota is, and will continue to be, an important source of new residents and workers. And workforce issues will certainly continue as major news stories because of public policy implications at the federal and state levels.
What can communities do to prepare for—and respond to—the current workforce situation? Laura Kalambokidis explains that a good place to start is learning about your local economy and retaining what you are already good at. This is a smart and time-tested approach. Minnesota DEED has a wealth of information online, as well as labor market analysts who can help you navigate resources. Extension also has a number of programs that help communities. If you want to learn directly from businesses already in your community or region, conducting BR&E visits provides valuable insight.

To learn more about BR&E or related resources, contact Michael Darger at or 612-625-6246.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2017 Community Leadership Series - Succession Planning for Community Leaders

The 2017 Community Leadership is bringing a new webinar to you in October.  Our FREE webinar "Succession Planning for Community Leaders," will be on October 19, 2017 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (CDT).  This webinar will address a topic many organizations don't think about on a regular basis, planning for the people who come behind them.

Community groups get good at planning...they focus on marketing and promoting events, coordinating fundraising activities, and getting the word out about their projects.  Those same groups, regardless of how successful they are at planning, often overlook the importance of succession planning.  Many never think about this type of planning until they realize that the person(s) holding specific leadership roles or those who have the working knowledge of the organization are ready to leave.  Succession planning is one thing leaders can do to focus on an important piece for the overall success of organizations.  

Jody Horntvedt, Leadership and Civic Engagement Educator will explore the topic of planning for changes in leadership within community groups.  Join us for this 90 minute webinar where Jody will share tips and tools for assuring that your organization is ready for changes in leadership.

Register at by October 10, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. (CDT).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Vital Connections on Air Episode 5: Minnesota's Economy 101

Minnesota’s economy is diverse. That diverse economy provides resiliency. State Economist Laura Kalambokidis joins Vital Connections On Air to explain Minnesota’s current economic situation.  We welcome Brigid Tuck, Extension Senior Economic Impact Analyst, to tell us more about Minnesota’s economy and Extension’s Economic Futures Workshops.

Minnesota’s economy, in general, looks a lot like the economy of the entire United States. This diversity helps Minnesota  weather economic downturns with fewer job losses than other states. And, the state can recover those lost jobs sooner.  Following the Great Recession of 2008-2009, Minnesota started recovering before the nation as a whole.

Extension researchers examined both employment and output in each of 12 Minnesota regions.  Read the findings and look, specifically, at your region’s economic strengths.

Is all this information intriguing to you?  Want to learn more about your own, local economy? Could your community use a deeper understanding of your local economy to make important decisions that are on the horizon. Then consider one of Extension’s Economic Futures Workshops.

The workshop helps community groups explore the local economy – what are the current strengths? What areas are growing?  What areas might be declining? How can communities help support businesses?

The workshop leads groups to understand the economic impact of 7-10 different industries on local economies. The analysis explores how much the expansion or contraction of one business in each industry would affect jobs, as well as the revenue of other businesses in the area. A facilitated discussion helps the community apply this knowledge to local discussions. As a result, the Futures Workshop helps communities look objectively at the state of their local economy.

Communities that have brought Community Futures Workshops to their area say that they walked away with a stronger understanding of their economy and increased awareness of the need to work together to grow industry. Some communities have discovered that investments they made a few years back really made a difference. Others redoubled their efforts to support their local businesses, with a fuller understanding of their importance.

If you are interested in learning more about your own economy, contact Brigid Tuck at or (507) 389-6979.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

2017 Community Leadership Series - Who is the next generation of leaders?

Summer might be coming to a close, but the 2017 Community Leadership Series continues with our upcoming FREE webinar, "Who Is the Next Generation of Leaders?"  Join us September 21, 2017 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (CDT) to learn more about this interesting topic that explores the new generational cohorts who live and lead in our communities. 

We have been hearing a lot about millennials in the media but what do we really know about them and their impact on our communities?  It is sometimes hard to distinguish facts in all of the reports about this generational cohort that is larger than the Baby Boomers.  As community leaders, it is important to understand the new generation of leaders who will be working beside us in organizations and leadership.

Join Brian Fredrickson, Leadership and Civic Engagement Educator, as he explores the unique characteristics of the millennial and digital cohorts.  This webinar will present research and insights on key factors such as community involvement, communication styles, and motivation to help you welcome the next generation of leaders.

Register at by September 12, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. (CDT).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Vital Connections On Air Episode 4: ReGen

Vital Connections On Air Episode 4 features ReGen, a grassroots organization located on Minnesota’s Iron Range. This group of motivated millennials help young newcomers, and those who are “young at heart,” develop social roots on the range. Social roots are the connections that make a community feel like home to its residents.   More important, they inspire you to make the community stronger.

Char Conger, Jessalyn Sabin, and Desiree Yourczek arrived in the Iron Range for different reasons. Char was relocated for work but ended up staying. Jessalyn and Desiree grew up on the Range, left for school, and then returned. What ties their stories together is that each of them wanted to build relationships when they arrived on the Range—to  connect with other community members.

Scholars refer to the connections that we make as social capital. Social capital is gaining more attention, because  it is critical to the health and vitality of communities. Social capital is made up of bonding networks and bridging networks.

Bonding networks refer to strong connections built among people who have similar backgrounds and everyday experiences, such as family, friends, and neighbors.  Bridging networks refer to weaker connections among people with diverse backgrounds, such as members of organizations, or associations outside a person’s inner circle. Although both types of networks are necessary, bridging networks help people meet bigger challenges and take advantage of opportunities. Social roots grow from these networks.

ReGen, and other groups and organizations like them are addressing  a need that has always existed in communities—our emotional need to create a life beyond work.  Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1995, place a higher value on work-life balance. Ben Winchester suggests it is necessary to show millennials the entire community— not just production or office areas—to get them to live and work in your community. Groups such as ReGen are an asset to businesses and communities because they build the necessary connections to recruit and retain the next generation of citizens and employees.   

Showing people what you love about your area, sharing its history and story, and connecting them with other newcomers is a powerful way to strengthen a community. Helping others to put down social roots impacts their personal narrative as well as the narrative shared about your community. It can also help you explore your own narrative. For Char Conger, becoming involved and learning about the region changed how she viewed her life on the Range. Char decided “to be the person that I’ve been in other communities.”  She became involved in organizations, she attended community gatherings.  She became an iron ranger.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Vital Connections On Air Episode 3: The Leadership Gap

We have all received the phone call or had the conversation at the grocery store. One of the community groups in town needs a board member, a volunteer, more people to bring bars.  If you are like me, you say that of course you will do what you can, but as you walk out of the store or hang up the phone all you can think is:  "Isn't there someone else who can help?"  

If you think this is happening more often in your small community, you might be right!  According to Ben Winchester, senior research fellow for University of Minnesota Extension's Center for Community Vitality, we are facing a leadership gap. In his recent analysis, he found that 1 in 16 people must serve as a leader in rural Minnesota counties. Urban and metro areas are also seeing a need for leadership but because of the size of their communities, their leadership demand is more like 1 in 51 people. Ben shares his research on this topic in our new episode of Vital Connections On Air.

This need for leadership is not due only to changing demographics.  According to Ben it is because Minnesota is a leader in the number of non-profits available to meet needs in our communities.  The growth in the number of nonprofits throughout Minnesota leads to more people needed to serve in leadership roles.  Between the years of 2000 and 2010, Minnesota saw a 19.3 percent increase in the number of nonprofits.  This is compared to an 8% increase in population during that same time period.  With this type of nonprofit growth, Ben estimates that we need 1,700 new leaders each year to fill the demand seen across our state.

There are many things communities can do to address the leadership needs they see in their communities.  One of the first things community members can do is engage with newcomers who are moving to their communities.  This does not mean introducing yourself and then abruptly asking them to join the board of the local organization. t means taking time to build a relationship.  Engaging in community work is a personal decision that is encouraged through relationships and connections.  By taking time to visit the new person who moved in down the street, learning about their interests, and connecting them to the right group or person, you build social capital that will strengthen your community.  

You might even open up one night of your overflowing meeting schedule somewhere down the road.

Communities can also facilitate connections among newcomers.  Ben shared in Episode 1: Not Your Grandpa's Rural that the best $150 dollars a community can spend is on a newcomer dinner.  This gathering encourages people who have chosen to join your community to create connections with each other and with the rest of the community  If you create these opportunities, you benefit from meeting newcomers, and they benefit because they learn who else is in their community and begin to build social roots.

Extension has also helped communities address the leadership gap by co-creating community and county-based leadership programs.  There are a variety of types of programs throughout Minnesota. Leadership programs  are led by community members and groups that are committed to helping prepare the next generation of leaders.  These leadership programs build upon Extension’s model that brings the same group of people (i.e., “cohorts) together over multiple months to explore different leadership topics.  The programs are created by a local Design Team. Extension Leadership and Civic Engagement educators design and deliver an educational program that  meets the unique goals and outcomes desired by that community, county, or region.  

Learn more about the unique aspects of the various programs and how to become involved if one is in your area. If you are interested in finding out how to bring leadership development opportunities to your community, contact Holli Arp, Program Leader for Leadership and Civic Engagement, at

Photo Credit: Flickr user pantin5

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