Saturday, September 26, 2009

Local GDP growth: positive signs for our communities and the nonprofits which serve them?

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released figures two days ago, which provide cause for both concern and optimism – but hopefully more of the latter than of the former.

On the national level, new data for 2008 show that “the slowdown in U.S. economic growth was widespread: 60 percent of metropolitan areas saw economic growth slow down or reverse.” However, some metropolitan areas did increase their economic output. The Twin Cities region, Saint Cloud, and Rochester all showed positives – which perhaps offers Minnesota some reason for optimism.

Nobody can say what this means in the long term; economic growth in Minnesota’s metro regions (unfortunately not including Duluth) may or may not portend better years in 2010 and 2011. However, the national turnaround has to start somewhere; maybe that’s here.

We don’t know exactly when increases in the metropolitan GDPs will translate into significantly more jobs. Hence, we don’t know when economic growth will affect the rising level of requests that we have observed for assistance with basic needs; nor do we know when resources will return to nonprofits. I advise my nonprofit colleagues that we will not see major relief for at least five years; we will feel the negative effects of today’s recession for at least ten years. Let’s hope I’m wrong about that, but we should formulate our long-range plans with those assumptions and make sure that we can sustain as much service to the community as possible during the coming decade.

If we work together, we can and will get through it.

(If you want more details, take a look at the latest BEA numbers; also take a look at the latest Quarterly Pulse for the local area.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Calling on the “reasonable middle” to improve our local communities (and move our nation ahead)

Two headlines appeared beside each other in last Friday’s Pioneer Press, which illustrate a major barrier to making progress on important issues facing our communities, our regions, and our nation. One stated “Pawlenty knocks Obama’s focus.” So, what else is new? The other headline proclaimed “Democrats line up behind Obama.” So, what else is new?

Real news would be: “Pawlenty compromises with Obama, for the good of Minnesotans.” Or: “Democrats use Obama’s speech as tool to collaborate with their Republican counterparts.”

Daily instances in which some politicians and other leaders state their mulish opinions, frequently embellished with misquoted, exaggerated, or twisted truths, unwilling to compromise, intent only to destroy those with opposing views – these events constitute news only to the extent that they illustrate the pervasive cancer that threatens constructive discourse in which all of us have the opportunity to contribute our points of view, then work together for the betterment of our communities.

At Wilder Research, we cherish differing opinions. No one point of view has an exclusive hold on the truth – whether that truth involves the best way to deliver therapy for children or the best policy for delivering services to older adults, or any other significant issue.

We often refer to the “reasonable middle” to identify our audience: that is, people who might be at center, right of center, or left of center - even very far in one direction - but not so far to an extreme that they can’t reach any consensus with anyone other than their own narrowly-defined group of compatriots.

Our Compass initiative, for example,, lays out facts about the trends in our region, identifies approaches to improving those trends, which other communities have tried, and invites people to work with us to address those trends. We invite those who want to work in multi-partisan situations to address social issues, improve the quality of life, deal with tough decisions related to the conditions of the vulnerable in our society, identify opportunities for increasing regional economic vitality, and any of a myriad of worthwhile endeavors.

Exciting initiatives have developed from Compass, ranging from community economic improvement efforts, to improving the system of services for the chronically mentally ill, to reducing disparities in health outcomes, to better understanding water quality. (See these on our website or Facebook page.) People from different points of view can come together to engage in collaborative action, with significant results.

Let’s all join the “reasonable middle”; let’s encourage others to do so. We can remain true to our own values, but still compromise to reach consensus, for the good of everyone.