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Published December 30, 2013, 09:26 AM

Demand attention rural Northland

Rural Minnesota is in trouble. Young people are fleeing the farms and forests of the Gopher State, and the residents left there are aging. And they’re dying. While populations decline in the outstate, the Twin Cities area, especially the suburbs, booms.

By: Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, Agweek

Rural Minnesota is in trouble. Young people are fleeing the farms and forests of the Gopher State, and the residents left there are aging. And they’re dying. While populations decline in the outstate, the Twin Cities area, especially the suburbs, booms.

A gloomy picture was painted at a Rural Legislative Forum recently in North Mankato, according to coverage by the Mankato Free Press.

“This is a crisis, but it’s not like a bridge falling down on 35W. It’s hard to get people’s attention,” said Jim Mulder, former executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties.

Mostly rural northeast Minnesota, joined by just-as-rural northwest Wisconsin, in other words, nearly all of the Northland can take a lead in helping to sound the alarm about what’s happening. Rural residents can write letters, hold demonstrations and more, demanding that their elected leaders take notice and take action.

And they can take action themselves. There is reason for optimism, the Rural Legislative Forum also made clear. Rural areas have natural resources, productive workforces and a quality of life that can be marketed to attract people and businesses, experts said. Technology allows many entrepreneurs and others to live anywhere, including rural areas. And small towns can work together to better compete with metro areas and globally.

The demise of country living isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. A year ago this month, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a speech that rural America was “becoming less and less relevant” to government and to politicians. He suggested little effort was being made, or had to be made, to reach and advocate for people on farms, in the woods or in small, isolated towns. In other words, the U.S. government and its elected leaders aren’t bothering to represent rural areas because there’s no political payoff or ballot-box support.

Vilsack had a point. A farm bill that expired at the end of September 2012 still hasn’t been replaced after almost never being stalled in the past. More people live in cities and suburbs, and President Barack Obama, a Democrat, retained the White House despite overwhelming support for his Republican challenger in the nation’s rural areas.

But none of those are reason enough for elected leaders to ignore an entire segment of the population, as Vilsack said. Elected representatives and others in government are supposed to work for all, not just for people who support their elections and re-elections. When they don’t represent all, the people snubbed are entirely justified in expressing their strong disapproval.

So let’s hear it, rural northeast Minnesota and rural northwest Wisconsin. There’s much to scream about and to scream for.

Editor’s note: This editorial appeared in the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune Dec. 19.

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