10th Annual Minnesota Rural Summit Features Packed Agenda on Design, Planning and Economic Development

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"Thriving by Design" conference links community economic success to design and planning strategies; May 10 & 11 date highlights preparation for Minnesota's Sesquicentennial Year.

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Design and planning are essential elements for community economic success in the complex world we live in, according to the conference planners and presenters shaping the program for the 10th annual Minnesota Rural Summit, to be held Thursday and Friday, May 10 & 11, 2007, at Cragun's Resort & Conference Center, in Brainerd, Minnesota. Visit the Summit web site: http://www.minnesotaruralpartners.org/2007_summit/index.html.

The 2007 theme, Thriving by Design, will emphasize how, in the emerging design economy, design and planning can be used to integrate multifaceted economic, demographic, physical and social issues into clear strategies that position communities, regions and the state to thrive well into the 21st century. Thriving by Design is the act of intentionally planning for the future and designing communities to be attractive, productive, enterprising, and healthy places to live.

The Rural Summit is being held in May to highlight the fact that Minnesota will celebrate its statehood Sesquicentennial exactly one year later (May 11, 2008). The Summit program will show how design and planning have figured into Minnesota's past, present, and future, including the evolution of Minnesota's economic development - "a design influenced by great vision, natural conditions, happenstance and good fortune," according to Jim Ramstrom, a veteran of the Minnesota State Planning Agency and one of the Thursday keynote speakers, who will draw lessons from the past that are applicable to community and entrepreneurial development today.

What does design have to do with community and economic development, the usual mainstays of past Minnesota Rural Summits? The design-based economy is emerging now as communities and businesses turn to the innovations, problem-solving methods, and interdisciplinary creative processes of design to compete and thrive in an ever more complex and sophisticated world. We both shape and are shaped by our environment, according to Dr. Arthur Mehrhoff, the opening speaker Thursday morning and one of the early leaders and supporters of the Minnesota Design Team. Mehrhoff will present an overview of community design, the changing American landscape, and the social, political, and economic forces at work -- both seen and unseen that we must be aware of to better prepare our communities for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The 10th annual Rural Summit will take its cue from past Summit themes -- closing the digital divide, health care & economic development, energizing entrepreneurs, leveraging new agriculture and renewable energy, innovation, and boosting human capital -- with a look ahead at the trends and forecasts in these areas and more.

Tom Stinson, Minnesota state economist, and Tom Gillaspy, the state demographer, will present some eye-opening statistics and analysis that will have you rethinking state and local economic policy and development strategy. Their presentation will be introduced by Dan McElroy, commissioner of the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development. Expert panelists on agriculture and renewable energy, housing, transportation, telecommunications, education and health care will follow.

Thursday evening speakers will pick up the pace with design and entrepreneurship-related presentations on "Downtown as an Economic Development Strategy - Entrepreneurs, Innovation, Workforce Attraction and Local Identity in a Global Economy" and "Community-based Rural Entrepreneurship." The thrust of the downtown presentation, by Gary Becker of Madison, Wisconsin, is the role that the design of community "nodes" and networks play in attracting people to the community and promoting interaction, creativity and innovation.

On Friday morning, a special session on technology tools for design and planning will be offered. Afterwards, presenters from several projects now underway will introduce the process of design and planning as a way to wrap the complexities of 21st century life and work into a manageable whole. Their experiences suggest that without citizen engagement and investments in planning and design, communities and businesses cannot be proactive in the face of competition and cannot wisely manage Minnesota's resources to be sustainable into the future.

Also on Friday, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will be on hand to help kickoff a year of planning and preparation for the May 11, 2008 celebration of Minnesota's 150th anniversary of statehood. "The 2007 Summit will help us reflect on our heritage and accomplishments thus far as a state, and its message will help us prepare for a demanding future in which we can thrive by design." said Jane Leonard, chair of the Rural Summit and the director of Minnesota's Sesquicentennial Commission, who will introduce Secretary Ritchie and moderate several panels.

Prior to the Summit, several partner organizations including the Minnesota Design Team, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the University of Minnesota Center for Rural Design hosted a design competition and will showcase the resulting ideas at the Rural Summit. The Thriving by Design competition sought answers to the following question, meant not necessarily to be taken literally, but to allow imagination and creativity to soar: "After 150 years of statehood, knowing what we know now and the tools we have, combined with the ingenuity of our people, and facing the global pressures around us, how would you 'design' Minnesota today to carry on with our high quality of life well in the 21st century?" Adult and youth category winners of the competition will be announced at the Rural Summit.

To further reinforce the importance of planning and design in Minnesota communities, Summit organizers are inviting all of the nearly 100 Minnesota Design Team (MDT) towns to attend the Summit. To see a list of the MDT communities in Minnesota, go to http://www.minnesotadesignteam.org.

The Rural Summit is sponsored by several funding organizations, including the Blandin Foundation, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Southwest Initiative Foundation, Initiative Foundation, Minnesota Power, the Freeman Forum, AgStar Financial Services, Great River Energy, Land O' Lakes, the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, Minnesota Design Team, the University of Minnesota Extension, the Minnesota Association of Cooperatives Education Foundation, and the Cooperative Foundation. Over a dozen different organizations are supporting the Summit as well by serving as members of the Planning Team, managed by Minnesota Rural Partners, Inc.

The Rural Summit registration fee is $185 before April 10. The rate goes to $200 until May 1, and then $225 thereafter. You can see the full meeting agenda and register online now at http://www.minnesotaruralpartners.org/2007_summit or call 507-828-5559 or 651-645-9403 for more information.

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