Rural-Urban Conversations

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

The Center for Rural Policy and Development and Citizens League are excited to launch the third season of Interconnected: Rural-Urban Conversations.

Since 2020, Interconnected has been helping bridge the divide between urban and rural communities in Minnesota by discussing shared challenges and opportunities, and exploring how to design a future and systems that incorporate the unique needs of communities across the state.

All events are recorded. View past events below.

Minnesota’s Housing Crisis

May 22, 2024

On May 22, 2024, our panel convened to discuss the housing crisis and challenges across Minnesota – from substantial racial disparities in homeownership to innovative housing solutions, how are communities and organizations across the state working to improve access to stable and affordable housing? What policies have been discussed at the State Legislature to address Minnesota’s persistent housing challenges?


  • Rep. Esther Agbaje (D), Vice Chair, Housing Finance and Policy Committee
  • Rep. Andrew Myers (R), Housing Finance and Policy Committee
  • Scott McMahon, Executive Director, Greater Minnesota Partnership
  • Ryan Baumtrog, Assistant Commissioner for Policy and Community Development, Minnesota Housing
  • Shereese Turner, Chief Program Officer, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity
  • Amy Baldwin, Community Development Director, Otter Tail County
  • Moderators: Kate Raddatz and Brian McClung, Park Street PR

Deaths of Despair: Mental health and suicide rates in rural MN

March 5, 2024

The “deaths of despair” phenomenon is causing a reduction in life expectancy across America. What are they, and how do they impact rural and urban Minnesota differently? We also look at farmer suicides.

This Interconnected follows the release of a new report from the Center for Rural Policy in Development in late February.


  • Ted Matthews, Director of MN Rural Mental Health
  • Monica McConkey, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Rural Mental Health Specialist
  • Molly Peterson, MPH, Director of Adult Programs, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota
  • Dr. Tracie Rutherford Self, Ph.D, MN State University Mankato
  • Marnie Werner, Vice President of Research and Operations, Center for Rural Policy Development
  • Kate Raddatz, Moderator, Park Street PR

An Update On Minnesota’s Child Care Challenges

January 17, 2024

In February 2021, the Center for Rural Policy & Development released a groundbreaking report looking at the state of child care in Greater Minnesota. That report examined why it’s harder to make the usual child care model work in rural areas, how COVID restrictions impacted child care across the state, and recommendations to improve our state’s child care system.

Now, nearly three years later, CRPD and the Citizens League hosted an Interconnected online conversation about ongoing challenges facing child care in Minnesota’s rural and urban settings.


  • Jessica Beyer, Associate Minnesota Director, First Children’s Finance
  • Tikki Brown, Assistant Commissioner for Children and Family Services, Minnesota Department of Human Services
  • Marla Fountain, Director, Living Word Childcare Center, Minneapolis
  • Larry Hosch, Office of Inspector General Licensing Division, Minnesota Department of Human Services
  • Sherry Tiegs, Sherry Tiegs Family Child Care, Morris
  • Marnie Werner, Vice President of Research & Operations, Center for Rural Policy & Development

Moderator – Kate Raddatz, Park Street PR

The Journey to Meaningful Workforce Participation among Southwest Minnesota Graduates

December 13, 2023

As labor force demand increases, more attention is being given to our high school graduates – where are they going? What strategies and opportunities are needed to keep young people in rural communities? Learn from this insightful panel discussion exploring CRPD’s new report tracking the trends and career paths among high school graduates in Southwest Minnesota between 2008 and 2019.


  • Kelly Asche, Senior Researcher, Center for Rural Policy & Development
  • Nora Morris, Ed.D., SLEDS Director, MN Office of Higher Education
  • Eriann Faris, CTE Project Coordinator, LYFT Career Pathways
  • Carrie Bendix, Executive Director, Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council
  • Moderator: Kate Raddatz, Park Street PR

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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