We’re starting to look at Todd County, too

In the first post on this blog a few days ago, I mentioned the experimental nature of what Minnesota Public Radio News is trying to do here. For starters, we're zeroing in on the people and issues of Baldwin Township, and it's been fun to hear from Baldwin residents both in the comments and via email.

Next week, the Princeton Union-Eagle will start publishing a series of stories by MPR reporter Jennifer Vogel about what Baldwin Township residents are facing as they look to the future. We'll post that and more material on a separate Baldwin web page within MPRNewsQ. As always, tell us what you think.

At the same time, we're broadening our view and starting to look at a second community, Todd County, about 100 miles to the northwest.

As in Baldwin Township, residents in Todd County have asked for help from the Initiative Foundation in order to address some concerns, and MPR aims to do reporting and writing that will shed light and make it easier for folks to get engaged.

Just as we did in Baldwin Township, where housing development, planning and a skepticism of government are on front burners, we've started by asking what's on the minds of people in Todd County, tapping MPR's Public Insight Network.

And we're getting answers: Jobs topped early responses, but demographic changes are clearly on people's minds as well.

Nancy Leasman of Long Prairie pointed to the "empty storefronts" in that city and the loss of jobs in the last year at one of the county's largest employers, RR Donnelley.

"Though the city has built an incubator building with the hopes of attracting new industry, it hasn't happened, yet," Leasman wrote to us.

The mayor of Long Prairie (and the owner of the local bowling alley) Don Rasmussen told us that his city has become quite diverse, and poses a challenge to long-time residents.

"About 1/2 of the current Kindergarten class is of Latino descent. We have people from the Island of Palau, Pakistan, India, and other countries as well as a growing Amish community. The European flavor of our city has changed. Citizens do not understand it and have trouble with the immigration."

Rasmussen also hit on the issue that motivated some in the county to approach the Initiatiave Foundation in the first place, the high proportion of people over 65. The U.S. Census shows that 12 percent of Minnesotans are 65 or older. The rate is 21 percent in Long Prairie and 16 percent in Todd County.

"Our county social services are strapped financially and unfortunately the very old are the last to receive help as a result," wrote Corrina Brown who works for the county.

We're planning to ramp up our listening in Todd County in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you live in Todd County, tell us what you think are issues facing your community.

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