In this series, National Journal will profile three tools local leaders are using to encourage economic growth: investing in transit, connecting university research to the marketplace, and developing effective job-training programs. I spoke with Mayor Hodges by phone to ask about the challenges Minneapolis is facing, and how she's working to address them. Edited excerpts follow. My interview with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman will run later this week.
What is the biggest challenge facing the Twin Cities in terms of economic growth and development?
The wide gaps we have in outcomes between white people and people of color. We have some of the biggest gaps in the country on pretty much any measure you care to name. And we know what the demographics look like — by 2040, the region will be majority minority. That will happen sooner in the city of Minneapolis. If we don't make sure that everybody is thriving, we are going to be hampering our growth potential, both in terms of workforce development and people's ability to participate in our economy.
What can a mayor do to address these gaps and inequality?
One way is simply how we put our city together. Are we creating opportunities where they're needed most? That includes transit, particularly light rail and street cars. Investors are more confident investing around rails than they are investing around bus tires; they know those rails will be there in a generation. And with transit, you bring people to jobs and jobs to people. You can put them in the neighborhoods that need them the most, and that can spur an upward cycle of development.
Closing achievement gaps has proven to be a tough challenge across the country. What are you doing in the Twin Cities?
I just had the first meeting of our Cradle to K Cabinet. We're focusing on closing gaps from prenatal to 3-year-olds, because the first gap kids face is being born healthy, with the brain development they need. As a city, that is a place where we can directly have an impact. We're working to make sure that pregnant moms get the health care that they need and then sticking with those families for the first couple years of life. We also know that kids who are in stable housing do better than those who aren't, even if you control for their level of poverty. So it's vital to make sure that kids and families have stable housing.
There's a University of Minnesota professor named Aaron Sojourner who sits on the Cradle to K Cabinet. He published a study this spring that showed when you have strong supports and interventions for kids 3 and younger, the results of that persist into high school and beyond, even if there's no subsequent intervention. It's a big deal. It shows that this early, early period can have a transformative impact on the trajectory of a kid's educational life.