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AMY NOVAK: Knowledge fuels the new economy

Each year as I prepare my children for the new school year, I am reminded of how much has

changed. When my third grade son's science textbook introduced the human genome project, or my high school son began watching online videos about physics principles, or our daughter scanned the Internet for resources on solving complex fractions, I recognized that the school I attended in the mid-80s is a very different classroom from today. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 90 percent of the world's data has been produced in just the last two years.

The evolution of data and the access to new and more complex information validates the

emerging maxim: continual learning is a requirement of the 21st century organization. Knowledge fuels the new economy.

The Intelligent Community Forum's book, "Brain Gain," proposes a new lens that views the

knowledge economy as vital to community development. Knowledge workers spur innovation, and communities that invest in knowledge strengthen their capacity to become vibrant regional economic centers. Rather than discussing the reality of the brain drain -- the situation in which educated workers leave our community, region and state -- the book's author, Robert Bell, encourages communities to create collaborations, sponsor innovation and support quality of life initiatives that foster a brain gain.

South Dakota, and in particular, Mitchell, is fertile ground for developing a brain-gain culture.

Brain-gain communities invest in educational partnerships. While criticism is often rendered

about the relationship between the Mitchell School District and Dakota Wesleyan University, this partnership has yielded tremendous benefit for the region. L.B. Williams Elementary is tangible evidence of that benefit. Also, 30 percent of the teachers in the Mitchell School District are DWU graduates. Aspiring teachers gain experience in district classrooms, often choosing to stay in Mitchell or begin their careers in underserved areas across the state.

Another successful partnership stems from Avera Queen of Peace's investment in nursing

and athletic training education at DWU. It is an investment that continues to yield a well-qualified local labor force in health care. Nearly 70 percent of the nursing staff in the regional Avera system are graduates of the higher education institutions in Mitchell.

A partnership between DWU's digital media and design department and Innovative Systems is building a well-qualified labor force of mobile platform designers.

The list goes on. At MTI, partnerships between industry and education are preparing a new

generation of welders for Trail King, wind energy experts for the region, and radiology technicians for our local hospital system. Investing in developing a knowledgeable workforce encourages innovation and generates sustainable business revenues for our region.

While countless strategies exist to encourage recruitment from outside of South Dakota,

we need to position our community to keep the knowledgeable workers we are developing right here in Mitchell and across South Dakota. In January, DWU will launch an online degree completion program, an investment in continual learning for leaders in our community and region. For individuals who have completed some college coursework, this program will allow more students to improve their ability to be knowledge workers in their respective workplaces, and they will able to take their classes where and when it fits their schedules.

Developing attitudes that embrace the principles of the brain-gain community can start here at

home. The answer is collaboration -- among corporations, nonprofits and other major institutions. For the knowledge economy to thrive in Mitchell, our community needs to embrace education, both K-12 and higher education.

As the citizens of Mitchell plan our future, we need to continually consider ways that we can

leverage the strengths of education, industry and nonprofits to create vital partnerships that encourage our knowledge workers to stay in our region and contribute to its growth and vibrancy. We also need to commit to community attitudes that shun the antagonism and negativity that impede our progress.

While past mistakes may inform our future conversations, the past should never hinder the way we plan for our future. Our future will be determined by the attitudes, investments and commitments we make to develop the next generation of leaders.

Mitchell has the capacity to be a regional leader. Our willingness to embrace collaboration and

partnerships that develop and support knowledge workers will determine how well we succeed.

-- Amy Novak, of Mitchell, is the president of Dakota Wesleyan University.