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A rapidly expanding economy, an aging population and an influx of new residents to the region: How do these demographic and economic trends impact our cities and towns? The details are in the data.

By Elizabeth Foy Larsen

For anyone who calls Central Minnesota home, it’s probably not a surprise that more and more people are discovering our region is a great place to live. In fact, since 2010, the area has seen a 4 percent increase in its population, making it the fastest-growing region in the entire state
outside the Twin Cities.

“Population growth—particularly of working-age adults—is a huge blessing for Central Minnesota,” said Matt Varilek, the Initiative Foundation’s president. “At a time when finding workers is the primary restriction to economic growth throughout Minnesota, we welcome newcomers and their ideas, skills and passion for our region.”

Here are the main demographic and economic trends that are taking place in the Initiative Foundation’s service area, which includes Benton, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties.

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WHERE THE JOBS ARE
While the region’s growing economy continues to attract residents, growth isn’t spread evenly across Central Minnesota. Areas closest to the Twin Cities (e.g., St. Michael, Monticello, North Branch and Elk River) are gaining at the fastest rate. Only Todd County, on the western side of the region, saw its population shrink since 2000.

The Central region has seen the largest growth in jobs among all regions in Minnesota—including the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

WHERE ARE THE WORKERS
Central Minnesota’s robust growth, however, coincides with challenges that are happening across the country, namely that the rate of employees retiring from the workforce has resulted in a nationwide worker shortage.

In fact, through 2030, when at least one of five residents in every Minnesota county will be older than 65, the Twin Cities is the only region in Minnesota that is expected to expand its working-age population.

In the very near-term, there will be 3.1 million jobs available in Minnesota in 2024. Unfortunately, even if we maintain employment rates at historic levels of 78 percent of adults working, only 2.7 million workers will be available/able to work in 2024. That leaves the state with 400,000 jobs to fill.

How do we overcome this challenge? Bill Blazar, senior vice president of public affairs and business development at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said the Center for Workforce Solutions is making inroads. It’s a statewide effort to address the workforce gap, and former prison inmates. It has also encouraged federal immigration reform to supplement a slow-grow Minnesota population marked by baby boomer retirements. “New collaborations are necessary to supply employers with qualified employees,” he said. 

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EMBRACING NEWCOMERS

 For Central Minnesota, as with the rest of the state, the other answer to the worker shortage is simple: We must continue to convince people to move here, either from other regions in Minnesota and the United States or from other parts of the world

Fortunately, Central Minnesota has been proactive about embracing newcomers. Between 2000 and 2015, the region added 11,000 foreign-born residents. Today, nearly 10 percent of St. Cloud residents were born outside the United States. That bodes well when it comes to entrepreneurship and consumer spending. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce notes that more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or their children and 25 percent of high-tech companies in the United States were started by immigrants between the years 1995 and 2005.

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Those startups created 450,000 jobs. Today, 6 percent of businesses in Minnesota are owned by immigrants. And immigrants across the state have a consumer power of $7.7 billion per year.

In Long Prairie, the arrival of young Latino families has turned around the prospects of a town that a decade ago was facing the challenges of an aging population. The town’s schools are now thriving and the downtown is filled with shops and businesses.

This trend has led to increasing racial diversity in the region, although the percentage of people of color living in Central Minnesota still lags behind the state and nation as a whole. Since 1960, the region’s Hispanic population has tripled and the black population has quintupled.

Today, 15 percent of students enrolled in Minnesota’s public schools speak a language other than English at home. 

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Sources: U.S. Census Bureau. Decennial Census and Population Estimates.  


10 Years of Meaningful Numbers

 The Minnesota Compass rollout of its Build Your Own data tool brings community insights to entire state.

“Show me the data.” It’s a common request when teams come together to identify needs and solutions at the policy, community and program level. With the statewide rollout this summer of Minnesota Compass’s Build Your Own data tool, community leaders from across Minnesota can draw and compare meaningful data to drive decision-making.

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2018, Minnesota Compass is a social indicators project that measures progress in all 87 Minnesota counties. Compass tracks trends in education, economy and workforce, health, housing, public safety and a host of other topic areas. Users can view and sort data by city, county, school district, economic development region, Minnesota House and Senate districts, congressional district, ZIP Code and Census tracts.

Led by Wilder Research and supported by Minnesota nonprofits, including the Initiative Foundation, Minnesota Compass is used by policymakers, business and community leaders to show trends and progress in areas that affect the quality of life for Minnesotans across all races, genders, income levels and ages.
“It is used by really anybody who is interested in improving communities,” said Paul Mattessich, executive director for Wilder Research, “and they use it to develop plans, and to develop actions they are going to take and to monitor whether they are making progress and having an impact with those actions.”

Try it at mncompass.org.


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