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Rochester's diversity and prosperity go hand in hand

Rochester's diversity and prosperity go hand in hand

Since 1990, the city of Rochester's population has grown by 40,000 people. The population of the greater Rochester area is now more than half the size of the City of Minneapolis. Over these years of growth, Rochester has become more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, religion and culture. As our city continues to grow and evolve, citizens, families, community and business leaders all agree that we want Rochester to be economically prosperous, safe, and a great place to raise a family. While there are certainly challenges presented by our city's growth and change, overwhelming evidence tells us it is in our best interest to welcome and develop a diverse population and workforce.   

Most of us think of the word "diversity" as referring to differences in race, religion, ethnicity or culture. But in a broader sense, diversity represents differences in knowledge, life and professional experiences, education and opinions. And generally speaking, if we have a workforce that is made up only of people of the same race, cultural identity and religion who grew up in the same place, then that is probably going to be a workforce with a limited set of skills, experience and problem solving abilities. Diversity means that ALL of our knowledge, abilities, perspectives and experiences are needed for prosperity, not just some. 

Researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business have looked at the role diversity of information, knowledge and experiences has on teams of workers. Stanford professor and researcher Margaret Neale found that one factor that destroyed diverse work groups was the mentality that, "if you are different from me then I don't like what you do and I don't like you." Teams that rejected differences tended to fail. On the other hand, Neale found that the most successful work groups valued differences that emerged, and found ways to channel that diversity into shared goals and objectives. Differences are inevitable, and how we handle these differences matters. 
One reason Mayo Clinic is such a strong institution is that it is able to recruit the best and the brightest employees not only from our region, but from other parts of the country and other parts of the world. Mayo benefits from recruiting a diverse workforce with diverse experiences and perspectives on health, healthcare, disease and medicine. Mayo also puts an emphasis on acknowledging diversity in the work place and channeling that diversity into shared goals: treating sickness and disease and promoting better patient outcomes and experiences.  

How has our increasing diversity impacted the overall quality of life in our community? Evidence suggests that we are in better shape now than we were in the past. After more than two decades of significant growth in our community, Mayo Clinic continues to have more #1 rankings than any hospital in the nation. Compared to 25 years ago, Rochester now has a more vibrant culture. We have thriving downtown businesses and a university campus, more live music, more diverse restaurants, a growing arts community, a children's museum, a revitalized library, and a newly remodeled civic center that promises to bring world class cultural events. Mayo must compete with cities like Baltimore, Cleveland and Minneapolis for employees. So our increasingly vibrant local culture helps the Clinic and other employers attract the best and the brightest employees from around the country and the world.  

Meanwhile, as we have become more diverse, our unemployment rate has remained very low, around 4% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). In fact, as more employers move to our area, and local businesses hope to expand, we continue to need more workers with diverse skill sets. We also need to be able to train new and existing workers so we can all participate in the prosperity.

What about our crime rate? According to, in 2001 the crime index in Rochester was about 275. By 2015, this number dropped to 172. As we have grown more diverse; murders, assaults, burglaries, theft, and arson, have all decreased. Certainly, our low unemployment rate has helped, as have all of our hard working citizens, officers and organizations who work on efforts to keep the crime rate low. In Minneapolis, both violent and property crime rates have declined since a surge in diversity began there in 1992. More growth and diversity in Minnesota does not lead to more crime.

Becoming a more diverse city is not only inevitable, we are already in the midst of this growth and change. Many challenges remain such as the affordability of housing and inequities among our youngest learners. Still, research and evidence tell us that our increasing diversity has been and continues to be a strength in terms of our prosperity, our ability to solve big problems, and our quality of life. While there will always be anxiety about change and growth, our greatest opportunity lies in openly embracing our differences and focusing on our shared goal of building and maintaining a safe, prosperous city for all of our residents and for all of our families.

James Rechs is the father of two children, a clinical social worker at Associates in Psychiatry and Psychology, and President of the Board of Directors for the Diversity Council of Rochester, MN. 

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