Letter: Adjusting our sails for changes in the economy

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Several years ago, I was in a small-town museum reading a newspaper article from the early 1900s. The article was about how the community’s businesses were changing because of the automobile. At the time the article was written, few people foresaw the impact the automobile would have on our world, but in the midst of the changes, there was a large variation of how people perceived and adapted. The owner of the feed mill was upset because people were selling their horses as they bought cars, and his feed sales were down, and he was going out of business. The farrier who made the horseshoes had adapted his shop to be able to repair automobiles that people needed fixed. And a new business owner started a gas station.

The same changes swept over each business, but each responded differently. Some cursed the direction of the wind and kept trying to steer their boat in a direction the wind would not take it. Others adjusted their sails instead of fighting it.

Our economy is changing. In every community. In every industry. Online retail, technologies such as 3-D printing and drones, home computers and data at our fingertips are all changes the fabric of our economies. This is not particular to Albert Lea. Nobody in town had any influence on Herberger’s or Shopko, nor are they an indication of a dying town. Rather, they are the proverbial feed mill that did not adapt to the new business model.

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Our community, like many others, will be affected, whether we curse the changes or adjust our sails. Our choices, collectively and as individuals, are to foresee and adopt technology, demand better collaboration between our community entities, stop chasing factories to recruit to our community for a workforce that isn’t here and instead focus on our entrepreneurs that are generating better jobs, adjust our educational focus to fit the needs of our industry and community to promote the blue collar jobs that often pay better than jobs that require expensive college degrees, collaborate with communities like Mankato that are embracing these changes, and find our voice as leaders in the new economy that is emerging.

Or we can cling to the models that worked decades ago, give the naysayers a voice that our community is dying, and let each community entity keep working in their silo. We can complain about stores that close rather than finding retailers that actually flourish in our community. We can keep sending our kids off to universities where they well become indebted for a degree that won’t work for them and entice them to stay in a big city. We can attach ourselves to Rochester for the crumbs off the Destination Medical Center table that won’t fit our community’s industries.

I choose to adjust my sails, not just on my boat, but the sails on the community boards I serve on, how I influence my children’s career decisions and how I perceive Albert Lea. What will you do?

Brad Kramer

Albert Lea