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Viewpoint: Big challenges ahead

Nora Slawik

By Nora Slawik, chair of the Metropolitan Council

Gov. Tim Walz was clear when he asked me to be the chair of the Metropolitan Council — he wanted a mayor for the job. A mayor has a good perspective on the work of the Council. Whether planning for economic development opportunities and growth, ensuring diverse and adequate housing options, or maintaining infrastructure such as roads, transit and wastewater, the Council's work touches every community in the seven-county metro area.

During my time as mayor of Maplewood, I found that my job was really a mix of policy-making, budgeting strategies, and inspiring residents and staff with a vision for the future. No matter the mix of any given day, being a mayor requires the most important skill of problem-solving.

Of course, there are very few problems that any one agency or community can solve on its own. It's the reason the Legislature created the Council more than 50 years ago — to address issues too big for any individual city or county to do on its own. We do that through regional partnerships.

As chair of the Met Council, one of my top priorities is to ensure our region remains economically competitive in a global marketplace. This means attracting employment and opportunities for the people of our region compared to peer regions like Denver, Seattle, Atlanta and Boston.

But it's about more than just attracting and retaining business. We need to not just be a region where people can live, work and raise a family, but a place where people want to live, work and raise a family. It's about mobility, and being able to get to work or school, have housing that's affordable, great parks, strategic infrastructure, and smart plans for the future. That is something the Council plays a critical role in.

Today, our region faces a housing crisis. As our population grows, diversifies and ages, we simply don't have enough housing options for people in all life stages or of all economic means. Housing stability impacts nearly all aspects of life, including outcomes for health, education and income.

We also aren't keeping up with the growing demand for mobility. Our region is projected to add 700,000 people over the next 20 years. We need to be investing in maintaining and expanding our transportation system, which includes roads, bridges, transit, bike, pedestrian and more. Whether they're trying to get to their workplace each day in a car or fully reliant on public transit, or simply stretching their dollar trying to get by as a one-vehicle household, the Council is planning regionally to help make it work.

My second top priority is to ensure our region is a place where all people — not just some — can be prosperous. In too many areas to count, our region has chronic disparities that are holding us back. True economic competitiveness means everyone needs to be benefitting, and we have a lot of work to do to realize that we can close our gaps in employment, home ownership and health for our residents.

And finally, I want to embrace the Walz-Flanagan vision of One Minnesota. This means practicing collaboration each and every day, in everything we do. It means focusing on how to move our entire state forward; our region forward; and our communities forward. Our future depends on all of us coming together to tackle our shared challenges.

As a mayor and as a seven-term state legislator, I learned that together we can achieve One Minnesota. I'm inspired by the commitment from Gov. Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and know it's the most successful path forward.

We have big challenges ahead, but I truly believe that none of these problems are insurmountable. So long as we work together, listen to our partners and develop lasting, long-term solutions, we can move our region forward and be a place where everyone can thrive.