Immigrants are needed for rural Minnesota to grow

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State demographer, U of M study both say immigration is key to population growth

As the national debate rages over President Donald Trump’s attempt to restrict immigrants coming to America from war torn Middle Eastern countries and as he works toward building a wall across the country’s southern border with Mexico, another report has been released showing Minnesota’s economic future is tied to welcoming immigrants.

The need for immigration to fill the growing demand for workers is no more pressing than in rural Minnesota, which has been steadily losing population for more than 50 years. Many rural counties today, including Swift County, have a population lower than it was in 1900.

Deaths outnumber births in rural Minnesota.

Outmigration of young people from rural areas to the big cities steadily bleeds away the future employment base.

The Baby Boom generation of the 1950s and 1960s is retiring, stripping employers of workers and they are struggling to find replacements – most often they can’t.

It is a problem that is going to get steadily worse based on current projections and could lead to manufacturers leaving rural Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota research report released in January shows the future strength of Minnesota’s economy depends on attracting and integrating international immigrants into the state’s workforce.

Demographic trends “paint a troubling picture for the growth of Minnesota’s economy,” the report, titled “Immigrants and Minnesota’s Workforce,” says. It says that “a focus on attracting more immigrants is an imperative for Minnesota in order to address the challenges linked to the slowing growth of the state’s population and labor force.”

Commissioned by the Committee on Minnesota Workforce and Immigrants and the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, the report aims to “inform policymakers, businesspeople, economic development professionals and community leaders about Minnesota’s upcoming workforce challenges and the role of immigrants and refugees in meeting those challenges.”

It also highlights promising directions for public and private sector engagement to bolster Minnesota’s future competitiveness.

“We realize that immigration is a hot-button political topic today, but there is simply no getting around what this research highlights,” Bill Blazar, senior vice president of public affairs and business development with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and a member of the committee, said. “In order to meet our workforce needs across the state, it is imperative that we welcome immigrants and make them want to call Minnesota home,” he said.

The report, conducted by Humphrey School of Public Affairs associate professor Ryan Allen, predicts that Minnesota’s population and labor force growth will slow without a substantial increase in migration to the state, making it more challenging to fill job vacancies.

Minnesota will need to attract about 4.5 times the number of new residents it currently attracts to maintain a 0.5 percent average annual growth in labor force, the study says.

The University’s study is underscore by a recently released study from the Minnesota State Demographer that highlights the state’s weak population growth.

“Migration will increasingly drive growth,” State Demographer Susan Brower said. “Many Minnesota counties are experiencing slowing or negative natural change due to continued low birth rates and larger groups of people entering the later years of their lives. Counties from edge to edge of our state will be more reliant on migration if they are to grow in the future.”

In addition to attracting immigrants to meet its future workforce needs, the report notes that the state must also focus on incorporating them into the economy more completely and rapidly, leveraging their existing expertise, and increasing their skills through training and education. Immigrants in Minnesota are currently disproportionately clustered in low-skilled and highly skilled occupations, the report said.

“While the report paints a challenging picture for the future growth of Minnesota’s economy, it also offers an important opportunity,” Eric Schwartz, dean of the Humphrey School and co-chair of the committee said....


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