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Immigrants needed for healthy economy

A recent visit to southwestern Minnesota by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis president reaffirms what many economic experts already had determined, but the message bears repeating: Rural Minnesota needs immigrants to work and live here.

Neel Kashkari visited Worthington for two days this month, and as MPR News reported, he said immigrants are helping that southwest Minnesota city grow, something many communities in rural parts of the state can only hope for.

A Worthington banker estimated immigrants own more than a quarter of the businesses operating in that community. “If we embrace it, it’s what’s going to help rural Minnesota grow again,” said First State Bank President and CEO Greg Raymo.

Here, in the south-central area of the state, we have seen similar reliance on a diverse workforce both in small cities and in the regional center of Mankato. Meat plants in St. James, Madelia, Butterfield and Windom depend heavily on minority workers. Mankato manufacturing plants also hire immigrant workers and a number of immigrants have become small-business owners.

They’re the only population group still growing in Minnesota, according to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit policy research organization based in Mankato. The Minnesota State Demographic Center says the percent of Minnesota’s population represented by people of color (those self-identifying as one or more races other than white, and/or Latino) is projected to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent by 2035.

So no matter what people’s level of acceptance of diversity is on a personal level, the reality is that the economy needs immigrants — and always has. Hoping young people will return to their rural hometowns after college to work is not happening, at least not in numbers needed to keep communities viable.

Population projections predict that as baby boomers retire, enough workers won’t be available to fill the vacant jobs in Minnesota. Our newest segments of population are going to be key to keeping our businesses going. And a continuing tradition of strong public education in Minnesota, with the financial support it deserves, should help train those workers of today and tomorrow.

— Mankato Free Press

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