Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dakota County Visioning for 2030

Dakota County has a creative and innovative effort underway, to develop a "vision" for their county for the year 2030. Their advisory group asked me to speak this morning - to "tie things together", to help the group "identify connections" among issues, and to specifically address human services, education, public health, and public safety. This forward thinking initiative is very commendable. At the very least, it will provide reference points that citizens, county and municipal officials, nonprofit organizations, and others can use as they do planning. Beyond that, it has the potential to stimulate new thinking and to foster collaboration among groups interested in having the same positive impacts on the quality of life.

We could spend days analyzing these topics. So, I highlighted two major trends that constitute "key drivers" of changes related to the human services, education, employment and related dynamics in the County. These are: the aging of the population; and increasing disparities across our growing, diverse population in the region (of which Dakota is a part). These trends, of course, exist within the larger context of an increasing state population, increasing regional population, and increasing county population.

Aging, as we've noted before will result in "more of everything" - more people living longer, healthier lives, with the capacity to continue with employment, consumership, and community involvement - as well as more people with extended periods of disability and need for assistance. How will we cope with this dramatic shift? The State Demographer estimates that Minnesota will need 46% more healthcare practitioners and technicians during the next ten years. As retirements occur, the replacements for the health care industry are not readily available, just as they are not readily available for other industries.

Competition for scarce human talent will increase. Companies, nonprofit organizations, and government need to consider policy and workplace options that will help to maintain some of the energy and wisdom of older workers, rather than ignoring the fact that seasoned workers will begin to depart in large numbers as the Baby Boomers reach the traditional retirement age.

The disparities issue, as the Itasca Project noted, is a regional issue. Persons of color, on average, earn less, are less likely to have health insurance, have lower high school graduation rates, are less likely to own homes. Yet these are the growing populations with the potential to work in and lead the businesses and organizations of the future. We must strive for preschool readiness, elementary and high school achievement, and the transition to higher education for these groups, or our region will lose out in the global economy.

Many people in Dakota County wisely understand our regional interdependence across the counties of the Twin Cities region. As part of this visioning process, let's hope that even more do so!

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