When a Boy Scout or Girl Scout heads into the woods, he or she is prepared for any number of changing conditions. Rain. Wind. Long hikes or vigorous paddling on a choppy lake.
The one thing constant in life is change. And really, all you can do is what the Boy Scouts preach: Be Prepared.
This applies to the great outdoors, but it also applies to the great unknown of the changing economy in Northern Minnesota.
For instance, when we watch the national news we hear about innovations in electric cars. We see vehicles that run clean, performed well, and hold a charge even on a long daily commute. But for a region that often finds itself trailing the vanguard, we may believe we’ll be the last to adopt such technology.
But one regional nonprofit is showing the way, and it happens to be the Northern Minnesota-based Voyageurs Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Even though the Boy Scouts are as cash-strapped as most nonprofits, they’ve begun replacing cars in their fleet with plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV). These are vehicles with gas engines that run electric on longer drives. In fact, the local Boy Scout council picked up three such vehicles from Ford of Hibbing just last month.
“We put our first PHEV into the fleet in September 2014, just before the oil market crashed,” said David Nolle, Executive Director of the Voyageurs Council, which is based in Hermantown. “I wish I could say it was driven primarily with sustainability in mind. In reality, it was a matter of economics. We had added a position to our staff and needed another fleet vehicle. The math showed that the PHEV would be nearly 20-30 percent cheaper to operate than the small SUVs in our fleet. Now, even with fuel relatively cheap, they should be 15-20 percent cheaper to operate than the 2009 Ford Escapes that are being replaced.”
Leigh Lonson from Ford of Hibbing says that they are now certified to maintain PHEV vehicles, which are becoming more popular and a key part of Ford’s strategy for the future. Lonson said Ford of Hibbing also offers two charging stations for customers, though they are getting to be more popular in garages and public places.
When electric vehicles first came out everyone was testing the market,” said Leigh Lonson, of Hibbing Ford. “Now Ford produces lower priced cars that have economic advantages.”
Ford isn’t the only company expanding in this area. Chevy has the Volt, and Chrysler just released its first hybrid minivan. The appeal isn’t just to save on carbon emissions, though that helps, but that these kinds of engines are becoming cheaper, and more efficient. For his part, Nolle wants to make sure others know that you don’t have to look outside the area to do something innovative in your organization.
“All Scouting happens locally, yet we live in a global economy,” said Nolle. “We recognize that many times we may have to source something from outside our region, or our country. Whenever possible [however] we do business with local vendors. They are the ones who support Scouting with financial resources, volunteer resources, and are the organizations with employees who have children in our programs.”
The point of this is not that we all need to go buy hybrid electric vehicles. The point is that even when money is tight in Northern Minnesota’s constant economic squeeze, we must not shut ourselves off to new ideas.
We might find that new ideas are also the most practical.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.