GILLFILAN - Interconnectedness became something of a buzzword Thursday at Farmfest as an expert panel discussed what they believe the state's next governor needs to know about rural Minnesota.
The panel included experts from both urban and rural areas, but they all agreed rural Minnesota's economic health significantly effects the state as a whole.
King Banaian, an economics professor at St. Cloud State University, said he recently completed a study of businesses in his city, in which a third of firms expect revenue over the next five years from rural Minnesota will increase, and 80 percent of respondents said a portion of their income comes from rural customers.
Governor Tim Pawlenty accepts a plaque Thursday from leaders of several farm organizations in appreciation of his support of the agriculture community.
"When you help rural Minnesota, you help urban Minnesota," he said, adding that supporting rural areas should be done "not for the farmers' sake alone, but for the sake of the people who live in the cities who do business with rural Minnesota."
The results of his study are published in the Rural Minnesota Journal, a book produced by the Center for Rural Policy and Development, with the purpose of instructing incoming politicians about issues affecting rural Minnesota.
Banaian said as an instructor at a Minnesota State Colleges and University institution, he is supposed to teach 25 percent of his curriculum online, an item that is often advertised by images of college student in their dorms taking class on their computer.
"Online courses should be for those who can't make it onto campus," he said, a fact that backs up a push by the government to expand high-speed Internet broadband across the state.
Minnesota Rural Education Association's executive director Lee Warne pointed out the disconnect between education in rural and urban areas - one of those being the disparity in technology. Warne called for the next governor to reduce mandates that put smaller rural schools at a disadvantage.
"The next governor needs to walk the talk about rural communities," he said. "Lots of folks grow up on farms and then move away. The next governor needs to surround themselves with people that represent people from all of Minnesota."
Mary-Margaret Zindren, the strategic initiative director with the League of Minnesota Cities, said if the current track continues, all small cities in Minnesota will be running in deficit within five years.
"Unless the next governor makes the well being of rural Minnesota communities a higher requirement, they are on the road to steep decline. If we continue on our current path, every city in every corner of the state - regardless of property tax base - is going to be in a deficit in five years. In small cities in rural Minnesota, we are talking about a 29 percent level of deficit."
The panel was concluded with an address by Governor Tim Pawlenty, who extolled the virtues of Minnesota agriculture and advised the next governor of Minnesota to continue to focus on agriculture to ensure a bright future for Minnesotans.
"Minnesota cannot and will not be successful without successful agriculture," he said.