Education, diversification will be key in area's future success
Tuesday, April 02, 2013 10:07 AM
"For those of you who think Jerry Kill is going to be here, he's not."
Former Minnesota State Senator and NFL linebacker Duane Benson returned for the second time as the Preston Area Community Foundation's featured speaker at their seventh annual Fundraising Dinner and Celebration. He had spoken at the first annual PACF dinner and this time gave a talk titled, "The Future Ain't What It Used to Be"
With that, Duane Benson, the featured speaker at the March 25 Preston Area Community Foundation Fundraiser (PACF) Dinner began his address titled "The Future Ain't What It Used to Be."
Benson played in the NFL as a linebacker for 11 years and later served as a Minnesota State Senator for a decade. This was the second time Benson had spoken to the PACF; the first time was the first year the PACF held the now annual event. Drawing upon his experiences in football and government, Benson shared stories and insights on the ever-changing world of technology, globalization and demographics.
Benson started by sharing a few humorous stories from his playing days, which touched on the hard-hitting nature of the sport as well as his experience as a player under famed coach John Madden.
He then segued into the main points of his talk. "There are three trends that I've observed, and they are trends that to some extent we can't even control," Benson shared about the three areas mentioned above.
"They are painfully obvious when we think about them, but a lot of times I don't think we do," he remarked.
He used the new Vikings stadium as an example. Benson is a commissioner on the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority and he said all three changes fit in with the development of the stadium. For technology, he shared a statistic that showed 65 percent of game attendees said they would rather watch the game on television.
In a demographics example, Benson said in Texas, stadiums sell standing-room-only tickets for the same price as seating tickets because people 30 years and younger don't want to sit in a seat.
With globalization, Benson said Texas Stadium brings in a million dollars a month from tours and other events and that half of the people who tour stadium are not from the U.S.A.
Benson then focused on changing technology. He gave an example of a conversation he had with the CEO of DuPont chemical company. He had asked Benson what he thought a good corn yield was, to which Benson had responded around 200 bushel per acre. The CEO had said that in 10 years, the yield would be around 500 bushel per acre. This conversation occurred around 10 years and just last spring, Benson said it was reported in the Wall Street Journal that a man in Illinois had produced 503 bushel. Because of technology advancements, Benson said, more calories than ever before can be produced.
Benson also said the demographics have already shifted toward the younger part of the population who understands the new technology and can use it and the future technologies that will be developed. He said this technology has allowed people to gain a free education, accredited or not, from institutions such as Harvard and Stanford. Studies done by Yale have suggested that all of the jobs created by the end of 10 years will require a post-secondary education and that 80 percent of Minnesota students who enter college will graduate. "You can't match those numbers up and meet the employer's needs," he shared.
Benson addressed what he felt is a problem in high school education in Minnesota: diversity. He cited several statistics from the Department of Education on high school graduation rates. For white populations, he said, Minnesota ranks 23rd in the nation; for African-Americans, 49th; for Asian/Hispanic/American Indian, last.
Citing another study, Benson said, "In 17 years, all of the growth of employment in the metropolitan area is not going to come from this population. It's going to come from diverse populations."
He went on to say that this area isn't matching that diversity like the cities of Worthington, Willmar and Albert Lea.
"We have been led to believe, historically, that we do quite well, and we have done quite well historically." Benson pointed out, however, that it will be the diversity the area can attract that will determine if they can keep up. Benson shared that it will take another successful melting pot process to succeed in improving the state's education.
Globalization, Benson shared, is something that can't be stopped. The United States' production of oil will soon outstrip Saudi Arabia's production even though the consumption is being decreased by eight million gallons a day. The reason why gas prices aren't going down is because, he said, China has increased consumption.
"We are in a global economy. How much rain Brazil gets is as important as what Illinois gets," he said.
Hitting closer to home, Benson shared that 40 percent of Harmony Enterprises' market is now overseas.
"A lot of the challenges we are facing we can't control, but what we can control is what we do here tonight," he shared.
Benson stated that education will be key in Preston's future. "If you want Preston and Lanesboro to grow, you better have a good school and support it if you want the area to grow. You better really reward learning."
Citing the old adage he said, "If you build it, they will come."
"We have an opportunity to do this right. I don't think it'll happen from someone in government agencies or anyone else. It's going to happen from us."
In conclusion, Benson said that Preston and other communities can do things internally, and specifically in education, to do well and prosper.