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Two Futures, One Community
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Two Futures, One Community

Times are changing. Can we do the same?

We have two stories this month examining change. One looks at how to deal with it when it comes on fast, the other questions why it can be so slow. Both involve matters of great significance to the community.

Our cover story examines how one of our most revered corporate citizens and community architects is dealing with a bit of an identity crisis. It turns out just about everything General Mills had produced for decades is now being challenged—from cake mixes, frostings and breakfast cereals to pizza rolls and Helper meals. Contributing writer William Souder explores this primarily by looking at General Mills’ biggest product line, breakfast cereals, and he find the company’s predicament is not of its own making.

In 1980, the federal government told us to eat more carbs and less fats, bolstering the belief that the primary ingredients General Mills has used for decades—bleached flour and sugar—were good for us. The USDA’s well-known food pyramid even called for men to consume 11 servings a day of breads, cereals, rice or pasta. New scientific findings on nutrition have found we should have fewer servings of carb-heavy foods, and they should consist of whole grains instead of bleached flour.

It’s tough to make a good cake with whole grain flour. It’s even tougher to deal with the fact that most of General Mills customers like things the way they’ve been, while a growing percentage do not. I bet many of you can relate, given this type of challenge is becoming universal: How do we all keep our loyal customers happy, while altering or adding to our products enough to attract those wanting change?

General Mills is off to a good start, having added whole grains to all of its cereals and initiating other changes. And Chairman and CEO Ken Powell remains optimistic the company can keep up with the fast-pace change hitting its industry. I hope that’s the case.

The other story on change in this edition of TCB stems from my bewilderment at how north Minneapolis continues to stand as a shining beacon of racial disparity in employment and school achievement. Respected leaders in commerce and government have worked on it. Millions of dollars have been allocated over time. But most of this has been for naught.

“There has been a jobs gap based on the unemployment rate for the north side of Minneapolis for as long as all of us can remember, maybe 50 years. The gap right now is a 26 percent unemployment rate on the north side, compared with 3.1 in the city as a whole, the lowest in the nation amongst the top 50 cities,” says Mike Christenson, associate vice president of strategic partnerships at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. “To close the gap would require we get 1,952 Northsiders jobs. We have 1,106 north side students on this campus. When they’re finished here they’ll likely be placed in sustainable-wage jobs,” and placing them in north Minneapolis would cut the unemployment rate there in half.

The problem is, this area of the city needs more jobs to offer such graduates.

Senior writer Burl Gilyard begins to peel back the layers on this complex issue by talking with those moving to, and doing business in, north Minneapolis. His story finds about 20,000 Northsiders commute every day to stay employed. While most Twin Citians commute out of their residential areas to work, their earnings are higher and they can more easily afford the cost of transportation, as well as day care if they have children. Average annual earnings in north Minneapolis are the lowest in the metro area, while unemployment, poverty and homelessness rank the highest. All of this helps explain why high school achievement levels for children there are the lowest in the state.

I know some are asking, “Well, why should I care? I live somewhere else, I’m busy with my own challenges.” If compassion for your fellow humans doesn’t matter, there’s the abundance of potential labor going to waste while, for the first time in our state’s history, we’re running out of skilled or trainable labor. People talk about the need for immigration reform—what about reforming how we help the unemployed and underemployed obtain the skills they need to work better jobs, and to have those jobs located closer to their homes?

There’s also what happens if we don’t do this: we’ll continue to have thousands of impoverished individuals, some of whom will resort to crime when there is no other way to survive, while others will join what alerady is the largest percentage of our metro area’s homeless and poor.

Most of our best corporate leaders understand these points and have spent countless hours supporting initiatives, programs and foundations to help make a difference. This includes the folks at General Mills, who provided $3 million in funding last year to the Northside Achievement Zone, which is out to close the achievement gap and in so doing, end generational poverty in north Minneapolis.

That’s only going to happen if there are more jobs available. Not subsidized, just good-paying jobs from companies with good work cultures. This is what Thor Construction’s Richard Copeland plans to provide, and what Impact Mailing, Kemps, Hirschfield’s, Muscle Bound Bindery and other businesses with north side operations are already doing.

Perhaps more businesses can relocate to, or expand into north Minneapolis the next time they need additional employees, and work with the myriad educational and nonprofit organizations already set up to help prepare the people needed to fill those jobs.

Perhaps, also, someone will come in and lead economic development in this area. The West Broadway Business and Area Coalition (WBC) is doing a lot of good work for the neighborhood—including advancing a locally grown, fresh foods initiative—but there needs to be a point person, staff and resources to attract employers, just as there are for other neighborhoods and cities.

WBC President Tara Watson, who owns Watson Chiropractic and an Anytime Fitness on Broadway, remains committed to making a difference, as do Copeland and several others. I hope all of their efforts can foster a period of more rapid change beginning this year.

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