Olivia hosts 'Thriving by Design' rollout on building human capital
OLIVIA — Look to Olivia to know the importance of "human capital."
Its world-renowned seed industry was built by innovators, who literally moved the nation's Corn Belt hundreds of miles north through their work and ingenuity, according to Dane Smith of Growth & Justice.
It's part of the reason why Growth & Justice and MinnesotaOne.org chose Olivia as the site to unveil the first of five "blueprints" the two research and advocacy nonprofits will be promoting to build a more equitable state. Master's Coffee House in Olivia hosted the event Friday.
This first blueprint focuses on human capital. It includes 33 recommendations aimed at improving opportunities for people of all ethnic and economic backgrounds, as well as bridging the divide between rural and urban areas.
Most of the recommendations aim for what Smith, the Growth & Justice organization's past president, called the "sweet spots," or policy areas where both DFL'ers and Republicans can find common ground. They range from putting more resources in education for rural students to expanding access to health care and nutritional foods.
Olivia's home-grown seed industry is an example of the importance of human capital, Smith said.
"It probably wouldn't have happened if this town didn't value education the way it does," he said.
The community also won high marks for providing an inclusive and safe environment where people from different backgrounds can succeed.
Carlotta Eischens and her husband, John, own and operate Master's Coffee Shop. She told those attending the rollout Friday how she opened the Christian Community Outreach Center in two vacant and rundown buildings along U.S. Highway 212 in 1999.
The after-school hangout succeeded in getting white and Hispanic youth in the community to associate with and support one another. "Everyone is equal," said Eischens of the center. "We try to help them to the finish line instead of trip them before they get there."
That help is needed, as there remain many challenges for youths of different backgrounds. J. Pablo Obregón, of the Southwest Initiative Foundation, said the organization's Grow Our Own campaign is working to address the inequities young people face.
Take a look at the disparities in test scores at schools across the state to know the challenges.
"All of a sudden you see the differences people of color, people in poverty, (as compared) with those who are privileged in our schools," Obregón said.
Worthington has turned around years of population and economic decline by welcoming new immigrants. The Southwest Regional Development Commission, which serves the community and the nine southwestern-most counties in the state, now markets to immigrant communities around the state, encouraging them to work and live in Worthington.
Jay Trusty, the commission's director, said employers in the community had made it clear that unless new employees could be found, the community's steady decline would continue.
He now gives talks around the country on how Worthington has turned its decline around by accepting diversity. The school system includes about 3,000 students, and is 60 percent diverse, with 49 percent of Hispanic or Latino heritage, he said. There are 28 different languages spoken in town. The town's population has grown from under 9,000 to almost 14,000 today, and Main Street buildings are filled again.
"We want our community to grow and this is the way we are going to get it done," Trusty said.
Growth & Justice and MinnesotaOne.org will be rolling out blueprints on economic development, infrastructure, climate action and natural resources, and democracy in the months ahead. The blueprint on human capital can be viewed on the web at: www.thrivingbydesignmn.org.