City Assembly Highlights Challenges and Opportunities for Rural Businesses: Your Turn

If you went looking for high-quality okra, you might be surprised to find that your search led you to St. Joseph. What is an iconic Louisiana dish doing in central Minnesota? It happens to be a specialty of the Krewe restaurant, which opened in 2020.

Krewe and its close neighbour, the bakery known as Flour & Flower, are businesses run by an ambitious and idealistic couple: Mateo Mackbee and Erin Lucas. They have a vision that combines social justice, healthy food and a farm-to-table business model. Which reminds me: in addition to a bakery and a restaurant, they also started a farm.

If their story sounds familiar, it might be because they’ve been featured in the St. Cloud Times and the Star Tribune, among many other outlets. A lengthy 2020 article in the New York Times might give you the idea that no one expects much from creating great businesses in Greater Minnesota. However, those of us who live here know the truth: our environment is conducive to the growth of new businesses.

I’m not just talking about Saint-Joseph. Across the state, small communities enjoy many benefits when it comes to the businesses and talented people who are behind their success. To name a few:

  • A low cost of living. A study by the Center for Rural Policy and Development found that wages go higher in rural Minnesota because people here pay less for things like housing, taxes and childcare.
  • A high quality of life with easy access to outdoor facilities.
  • A thankfully stress-free commute and improved broadband that “makes commuting more and more unnecessary”, so to speak.

Of course, business owners in Greater Minnesota still need to do their homework. They need a viable business model, an understanding of their market, and a willingness to work hard. In this time of low unemployment, they may also need to take creative approaches to attracting talent, including creating a culture that genuinely values ​​employees and the diverse talents they bring.

Mackbee and Lucas know hard work as well as anyone. Lucas told an interviewer that she basically lives at the bakery. Mackbee, in addition to all of his other business and community activities, also makes time to serve Central Minnesota as a Trustee on the Initiative Foundation Board of Directors.

Part of their motivation comes from their sense of mission. They wanted to help demonstrate the value of a diverse workforce and bring in young people of color from the Twin Cities to give them a taste of farm life. They help build community — a fitting pursuit for a company named Krewe, which is inspired by the social clubs that form the fabric of New Orleans festival culture.

Other Greater Minnesota business owners have obviously had very different experiences. They are well aware of the challenges and benefits of settling here. They’re the world’s leading experts on what it’s like to be rural entrepreneurs in our state.

We’ll hear some of their stories on September 20 when the Rural Voice Series comes together for a town hall meeting at Krewe in St. Joseph. To learn more, visit ruralvoice.org. I invite you to join us for what promises to be a stimulating conversation on a topic vital to the future of rural Minnesota.

Matt Varilek is president of the Initiative Foundation, which provides grants, loans and capacity-building programs to promote greater prosperity in the 14 counties and two sovereign Indigenous nations in central Minnesota.