Rural-Urban Conversations

An initiative of the Citizens League and the Center for Rural Policy & Development

Minnesotans often use the phrase “rural-urban divide” when talking about the values and priorities that seem to differ across our state. But in reality, our challenges and opportunities are truly interconnected – though the solutions we design may look a bit different in Minneapolis compared to Mankato, or in Brainerd vs. Bloomington. This conversation series – hosted by the Center for Rural Policy and Development and the Citizens League – bridges the divide between urban & rural Minnesota by exploring our shared challenges and how to design a future that works for our unique communities. Each event begins with a look at CRPD’s latest research, followed by a panel discussion with speakers from urban and rural areas.

All events are recorded and can be viewed online, below.

Run, Serve, and Lead: What it’s really like to serve in local elected office

December 19, 2022

Elected roles in local government have a unique and vital place in our democracy, where neighbors elect neighbors to help their communities thrive. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard stories of increasing polarization and toxic political climate showing up in local settings. What’s it really like to run for office and serve in local elected roles like mayor and city council?

This event featured the findings of a new Citizens League report interviewing candidates and elected officials from all around the Twin Cities metro area and its suburbs as well as a Q&A with locally elected officials.


  • Emily Larson – Mayor of Duluth
  • Ben Schierer – Mayor of Fergus Falls
  • Luke Hellier – City Council Member & Mayor-elect of Lakeville
  • Blanca Martinez Gaviña –Director of Public Policy, Citizens League

Moderated by: 

  • Brian McClung – Co-CEO & Senior Principal, Park Street Public

The future of EMS in Rural & Urban MN

October 4, 2022

On Thursday, September 29, 2022 this webinar explored shared challenges and opportunities facing Emergency Medical Services in rural and urban areas. We all want an ambulance to arrive promptly when we call 9-1-1, but funding and workforce issues are stretching systems thin.


  • Kelly Asche – Sr. Researcher, Center for Rural Policy & Development
  • Dylan J Ferguson – Executive Director, Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board (EMSRB)
  • Ann Jenson – Executive Director, Southwest MN EMS
  • Mark Jones – Executive Director, Minnesota Rural Health Association

Building Understanding Between Rural & Urban Communities

March 2, 2022

Wherever you live, you have undoubtedly encountered the term “Urban/Rural Divide” that describes a divisive narrative in policy and politics based on geographic differences. In reality, we all want similar things – good healthcare and education, for example – but the solutions often look different based on where you live. How can we build understanding between these communities?


  • Kate Cimino – Executive Director, Citizens League
  • Benya Kraus – Executive Director and Co-Founder of Lead for MN
  • Julie Tesch – President & CEO, Center for Rural Policy & Development

Moderated by: 

  • Christina Palladino – Senior Principal, Park Street Public

Examining Health Care Access

June 8, 2021

Access to healthcare services is critical to good health, yet both rural and urban Minnesota residents face a variety of access barriers. When we talk about healthcare, cost is often the focus. But broader accessibility issues remain a challenge. Both rural and urban residents encounter barriers to healthcare that limit their ability to obtain needed care. In both settings, healthcare services must be available and obtainable in a timely manner. And even when an adequate supply of healthcare services exists in the community, other factors, such as transportation and language barriers, can limit access.


  • Toby Freier – President, New Ulm Medical Center, Allina Health
  • Mark Jones – Executive Director,  MN Rural Health Association
  • Vayong Moua – Director, Racial & Health Equity Advocacy, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MN
  • Kelly Asche – CRPD Research Associate, New London
  • Christina Palladino, Senior Principal at Park Street Public, St. Paul, MN

Minnesota’s Workforce – Help Wanted, Everywhere

April 29, 2021

Our second Interconnected Conversation focused on the workforce shortage in Minnesota. Panelists discussed the similarities and differences in the workforce shortage between urban and rural Minnesota, how the pandemic affected employment in rural and urban areas differently, and some possible solutions for solving this issue in the future.

  • Santo Cruz – Senior VP & General Counsel, CentraCare, St. Cloud
  • Louis King – President & CEO, Summit Academy OIC, Minneapolis
  • Jessica Miller – DEED Regional Workforce Strategy Consultant, SW MN
  • Traci Tapani – Co-President, Wyoming Machine, Inc.
  • Kelly Asche – CRPD Research Associate, New London
  • Christina Palladino, Senior Principal at Park Street Public, St. Paul, MN

Childcare: A Complex Crisis

March 31, 2021

Our first Interconnected Conversation focused on the childcare crisis in Minnesota. Panelists discussed the similarities and differences in childcare between urban and rural Minnesota, what potential business models may be a part of the solution and how the childcare crisis relates to other parts of our economy.

  • Karen DeVos – Owner of Little Learners Early Childhood Center in Ada, MN
  • Vanessa GoodThunder – Director of the C̣aƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Oṭi, the Lower Sioux Early Head Start and Head Start Dakota language immersion program in Morton, MN
  • Dianne Haulcy – Senior Vice President of Family Engagement at Think Small in St. Paul, MN
  • Shirley Toby – In-home daycare provider from Crystal, MN 
  • Marnie Werner – VP of Research & Operations, Center for Rural Policy & Development, Mankato, MN
  • Christina Palladino, Senior Principal at Park Street Public, St. Paul, MN

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