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boy in plowed field

Creating vitality in rural Minnesota

–by Teresa Spaeth
Photo by Larry Dahl

This spring I had the opportunity to attend the inauguration of Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) President Connie Gores, the ninth president of the university. I greatly appreciated her address titled “The Prairie. The People. The Possibilities.” Many of the points she highlighted hit home with me as being integral to creating vitality in rural Minnesota. Through telling the story of the creation of SMSU, I believe President Gores gave us a roadmap of what it will take to create vitality in rural Minnesota: vision, the right people working together at the right time, and the perseverance that has been a trait of rural Minnesotans since our beginnings.

Vision: SMSU’s leaders came together around a common vision—a campus on the prairie that would make it possible for many first-generation college students to further their education without going deep into debt. If we can paint a picture of what rural vitality looks like and why it’s important to our state, we can come together to act on that vision and realize the opportunities it presents.

Right people, right time: The community members who helped found the university were not just dreamers, Gores said. “They rolled up their sleeves and got to work.” In the same way, we have work to do today to create vitality in rural Minnesota, and each organization and person has a role to play in that. By appreciating and making the most of the strengths and talents of our people—in agriculture, higher education, economic development, and more—we can create momentum and a plan that will get the work done.

For AURI, one of our goals to create rural vitality is to capitalize on the opportunities Minnesota has in agbioscience. Minnesota has tremendous strengths and assets in agriculture and the related biosciences. If we can harness those strengths by supporting our business and entrepreneurs in this industry and giving them the tools they need for success, we can create jobs and economic growth for rural Minnesota.

Perseverance: SMSU’s creators got where they got by doing things, not sitting back and planning. We are a hardy people in rural Minnesota. We need to foster action and persevere in the implementation of plans to create a strong future for our children and grandchildren

As President Gores said, “We must capture the spirit of working together for the common good. Let us engage our prairie eye, where we can look at a square foot and see
the universe.”