Addressing the Pressing Topics Facing Our Area

In two recent online speaking sessions, Northspan President & CEO Elissa Hansen helped raise awareness of the work that is being done by individuals and organizations throughout the Northland in relation to an array of high priority issues, including:

  • Broadband Access — The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed disparities in broadband access throughout our region and added urgency to the effort to extend reliable broadband for all as a basic utility necessary for work, school, and other life essentials.
  • Career Pathways — A drive to combat elevated unemployment rates and fill job vacancies in order to allow businesses to expand will involve orienting our college and K-12 education systems to inform students about Northland employers and prepare them for careers in high-demand industries.
  • Community Housing — As many areas face housing shortages, we “can’t build fast enough” to enhance infrastructure and support the growth of our communities.
  • Equity and Inclusion — After a polarizing twelve months in 2020, the year ahead will place an emphasis on breaking down barriers—whether across state lines, political outlooks, racial and ethnic groups, generational divides, and other categories which shape the ways in which we understand culture.

These topics came up repeatedly in both recent online speaking events that Northspan participated in:

Institute for Advanced Study: Polarization and Identities Spotlight Series

On February 11, Elissa was one of three panelists in an episode exploring the theme of “The Rural/Urban Divide.” Moderated by John Rash of the Star Tribune, the episode brought together Shannon Smith Jones, Executive Director of Hope Community in the Twin Cities, and Peter Lindstrom, District 10 Metropolitan Council Member, to explore perspectives on polarization through three geographical lenses: urban, suburban, and rural.

Elissa drew on her experiences working throughout Greater Minnesota, pointing out that pronounced urban and rural dynamics vary on a city by city and town by town basis all across our region. You can watch the full episode on IAS UMN’s Youtube Channel.

Advanced Minnesota’s Workforce One Podcast

For the February 18 episode of Advanced Minnesota’s Workforce One Podcast, Elissa spoke with host Trent Janezich about workforce and economic development in rural Minnesota, and ways to make our region more economically vibrant.

Here’s an excerpt from their conversation:

Elissa: Our region is set to change. The face of our region will not look the same. And we have some work to do to figure out how to be the community that comes together and wants to invite people in.

Trent: Yeah. I think it gets lost. You know, the stereotypes of that are, “if you’re interested in DEI, you’re on this side of the political spectrum,” and “if you’re interested in business growth, you’re on this side of the political spectrum,” and I think that what I’m hearing from you is you’re an economic developer interested in both sides of that. You know, you can have both, right?

Elissa: Yeah.

Trent: So there’s an economic imperative to do DEI really really well, whether you’re private business, nonprofit, or whatever, and I think that we would have a lot of economic gains if we moved in that direction. So I definitely appreciate [how] you’re kind of sitting at the nexus of these two spots, you’re sitting in the middle of the Venn diagram and trying to make that happen for us, so thank you for that.

Elissa: Yeah, it’s going to take a big group of people to start moving some mountains and having some really hard conversations that bring joy to our communities. It’s coming and I think there are so many people out there that are ready for it. That’s what I think surprised me, too, the conversations. Small little communities to our medium-sized to our big communities that might be, you know, 500 or 15,000 people, and they all want to start talking about what that means.

You can listen to the full episode here: Workforce One Podcast by Advanced Minnesota.