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Why Central Minnesota’s population has exploded over the last few decades


Central Minnesota has grown at roughly double the rate of the state ... particularly Sherburne and Wright counties, saw homes built on speculation that sat empty during the housing crisis. But it picked back up again after 2010, with many of those houses ...


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This region, which encompasses Benton, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties, added nearly 140,000 residents between 2000 and 2016, according to Census dataThat’s a 23 percent increase. Central Minnesota has grown at roughly double the rate of the state as a whole in the same timeframe, and considerably more than the rate seen in every other nonmetro region (southwestern Minnesota actually lost 4 percent population in this timeframe). Percent change in population since 2000 by Minnesota region Central Minnesota's population grew at a faster rate than any other region in the state between 2000 and 2016For lists of counties contained in each region, please see “One problem with pitting Greater Minnesota vsthe metro: There’s more than one Greater Minnesota.” Source: Minnesota State Demographic Center, compiled by Minnesota Compass The growth isn’t spread out evenly across the Central Minnesota region — areas closest to the Twin Cities are gaining at the fastest clipBut most of the region’s counties are growing or holding steadyIn Central Minnesota, only Todd County, on the western side of the region, saw its population shrink since 2000. Population growth relative to 2000 by Central Minnesota county, 2000-2016 Source: Minnesota State Demographic Center In StCloud alone, “We’ve added about 4,000 to 5,000 people in the last five years, and people look at that and say that’s very much unlike the rest of Greater Minnesota — how did that happen?” said King Banaian, the dean of the School of Public Affairs at StCloud State University and former state representative. Big changes It wasn’t that long ago that driving up the Interstate 94 out of the Twin Cities toward StCloud, things would get pretty rural for long stretches: before new subdivisions marched into StMichael; before the Albertville outlet mall. These days, the whole corridor feels almost like one continuous metro area instead of the connection between two, with shopping centers and residential developments dotting the freeway exitsThe same could be said of the stretch of Interstate 35 north of the cities. It all started about 15 years ago, Banaian said, as the Twin Cities metro expanded and people looked to look to the north and west for more space and more affordable places to liveHousing went up and people moved in, growing communities like StMichael, Monticello, North Branch and Elk River. Elk River has changed remarkably since John Dietz was a kid — at a time when the city’s population was probably around 3,000, he said (today it’s more than 24,000). “When I was a little kid, we always had to go someplace else to shop, there were no stores for clothing and things like that,” said Dietz, now the city’s mayor. Dietz said Elk River saw rapid expansion in the ’90s and early 2000s, after the city extended sewer and water services to the east and western sides of the community. “We had a flock of developers come in and start building houses,” he saidNow, many people who live in Elk River commute the 35-or-so miles to the Twin Cities for work. Creative Commons/Michael HicksThe Northstar station in Elk River. Growth slowed during the Great Recession, Banaian said, when parts of the area, particularly Sherburne and Wright counties, saw homes built on speculation that sat empty during the housing crisis. But it picked back up again after 2010, with many of those houses sold for cheap, attracting young families to the area. It’s not just homes, though, it’s businesses opting to locate on I-94 or I-35, too, said Jeff Wig, vice president for economic and organizational development at the Initiative Foundation, a regional community development organization. While much of the growth in Central Minnesota is driven by its proximity to the Twin Cities metro, its proximity to more far-flung parts of the region and more remote parts of the state is a factor, too, helping it grow as a regional hub for things like health care. “We’ve got a great regional medical center here and a great hospital,” said Teresa Bohnen, president of the StCloud Area Chamber of Commerce“A lot of retirees, even from further north will come here and retire to be close to those medical centers.” And it’s not just Minnesotans relocating to Central Minnesota, eitherBetween 2000 and 2015, the region added 11,000 foreign-born residents. Economic growth Particularly fast-paced economic growth is another characteristic that sets the region apart from the rest of the state. Creative Commons/mike duprisHousing went up and people moved in, growing communities like StMichael. Central Minnesota has had the highest rate of job growth since 2000 of any region in the state including the Twin Cities metroAt about $62,600, Central Minnesota has the highest median household income of any nonmetro region of the state. “The Central Minnesota economy is pretty diversified,” Wig said, “It’s not like you go into a town and it’s one giant Fortune 500 company.” Job growth relative to 2000 by Minnesota region, 2000-2016 Source: DEED, compiled by Minnesota Compass And StCloud has the 13th fastest-growing gross-domestic product, a measure of the goods and services produced frequently used as an indicator of economic health, of U.Smetro areas, Bohnen said. With low unemployment putting a squeeze on employers to find enough workers to fill jobs, the question becomes how to best make use of all the workers in the region, Banaian said. “We have to figure out how to bring in people who are not currently in the labor force,” he said“That’s the issue that our businesses are dealing with on a very regular basis.” Tug-of-war for workers While proximity to the metro is driving much of Central Minnesota’s growth, it’s also one of the area’s greatest challenges: it’s relatively easy for people to live in Central Minnesota communities like Wyoming, Rogers, Monticello and Elk River — even StCloud —  and work in the Twin CitiesThis creates a sort of tug-of-war situation for those towns trying to keep their residents in the local workforce, especially as local economies expand. With the opening of the Northstar commuter line in 2009, which runs from downtown Minneapolis, up through the Twin Cities’ northern suburbs to Big Lake, it’s now possible to commute by rail from Central Minnesota communities like Big Lake and Elk River to the Twin Cities. For cities like North Branch — about a 45-mile commute to downtown Minneapolis on I-35 — getting people to work closer to home is also an ongoing battle; many employers are looking to hire, but 83 percent of residents commute to the Twin Cities, said Julia Gervais, the executive director of the North Branch Chamber of Commerce. “One of the movements here is shop and buy local,” Gervais said“That also applies to working local, finding a job that’s closer to home, because time is money.” Creative Commons/Jerry HuddlestonFor cities like North Branch getting people to work closer to home is also an ongoing battle. Gervais, who moved to North Branch from Duluth recently, said convenience was a big factor in her decision to moveBetween the opportunities to get outside, good schools for her 12-year-old daughter, and that the area is close enough to easily visit family in the Twin Cities — there are major pluses to living in Central Minnesota, she said. Those amenities, among other things, are expected to draw more people to the area in the future: Growth in Central Minnesota isn’t expected to stop anytime soon, though it is projected to to be uneven across the region and slower, bringing an additional 7 percent of the region’s current population by 2050, or 51,000 more people, according to the Minnesota State Demographic CenterThat’s compared to several Minnesota regions are projected to shrink in population by 2050, including the Northland, Southeast and Southwest. “The quality of life piece is something everyone mentions, but I do think that is a factor in drawing a lot of people,” Wig said“If they’re able to find employment in a career they would like in  a highly diversified economy … they may be more likely to move to a smaller community.” This report was made possible by a grant from the Otto Bremer TrustMinnPost's donors, foundation funders, and corporate sponsors support our work in the belief that promoting greater civic engagement and informed discourse is the surest path to a better MinnesotaThey play no role in guiding the journalism produced by MinnPost. var countyDesignations = {"benton":"central", "cass":"central", "chisago":"central", "crowwing":"central", "isanti":"central", "kanabec":"central", "millelacs":"central", "morrison":"central", "pine":"central", "sherburne":"central", "stearns":"central", "todd":"central", "wadena":"central", "wright":"central", "aitkin":"northland", "carlton":"northland", "cook":"northland", "itasca":"northland", "koochiching":"northland", "lake":"northland", "saintlouis":"northland", "beltrami":"northwest", "clearwater":"northwest", "hubbard":"northwest", "kittson":"northwest", "lakeofthewoods":"northwest", "mahnomen":"northwest", "marshall":"northwest", "norman":"northwest", "pennington":"northwest", "polk":"northwest", "redlake":"northwest", "roseau":"northwest", "blueearth":"southern", "brown":"southern", "dodge":"southern", "faribault":"southern", "fillmore":"southern", "freeborn":"southern", "goodhue":"southern", "houston":"southern", "lesueur":"southern", "martin":"southern", "mower":"southern", "nicollet":"southern", "olmsted":"southern", "rice":"southern", "sibley":"southern", "steele":"southern", "wabasha":"southern", "waseca":"southern", "watonwan":"southern", "winona":"southern", "bigstone":"southwest", "chippewa":"southwest", "cottonwood":"southwest", "jackson":"southwest", "kandiyohi":"southwest", "lacquiparle":"southwest", "lincoln":"southwest", "lyon":"southwest", "mcleod":"southwest", "meeker":"southwest", "murray":"southwest", "nobles":"southwest", "pipestone":"southwest", "redwood":"southwest", "renville":"southwest", "rock":"southwest", "swift":"southwest", "yellowmedicine":"southwest", "becker":"westcentral", "clay":"westcentral", "douglas":"westcentral", "grant":"westcentral", "ottertail":"westcentral", "pope":"westcentral", "stevens":"westcentral", "traverse":"westcentral", "wilkin":"westcentral" } $(function(){ $('#map-central').vectorMap({ map: 'mn-counties', backgroundColor: '#ffffff', zoomOnScroll: false, regionStyle: { initial: { fill: "#cccccc" } }, series: { regions: [{ values: countyDesignations, scale: { "central": "#ff6633" }, }] }, onRegionTipShow: function(e, el, code){ el.html(el.html() + " County"); } }); }); MP.highcharts.makeChart('.chart-popchangeregion', $.extend(true, {}, MP.highcharts.columnOptions,{ legend: { enabled: false }, xAxis: { categories: ['Central', 'Twin Cities', 'Minnesota', 'West Central', 'Southern', 'Northwest', 'Northland', 'Southwest'] }, yAxis: { min: -5, title: { text: 'Population growth since 2000'}, plotLines: [ { value: 0, color: '#ABABAB', width: 1, } ] }, tooltip: { formatter: function(){ return ' ' + this.series.name +" , " + this.x + ' ' + ': ' + MP.formatters.number(this.y,1) + '% since 2000'; } }, series: [ { name: 'Percent change in population since 2000', data: [22.9, 14.8, 12.2, 8.8, 7.7, 3.4, 0.9, -3.9] } ] })); MP.highcharts.makeChart('.chart-popchangecounty', $.extend(true, {}, MP.highcharts.lineOptions,{ legend: { enabled: true }, xAxis: { categories: ['2000', '2001', '2002', '2003', '2004', '2005', '2006', '2007', '2008', '2009', '2010', '2011', '2012', '2013', '2014', '2015', '2016'] }, yAxis: { min: -10, title: { text: 'Population growth since 2000'} }, tooltip: { formatter: function(){ return ' ' + this.series.name +", " + this.x + ' ' + ': ' + MP.formatters.number(this.y,1) + '% since 2000'; 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Email Share Tweet Print Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox First Name: * Enter your first name. Last Name: * Enter your last name. Email address: * Enter the email you would like to sign up with. Subscribe to these regular newsletters: Daily newsletter Sunday review Greater Minnesota newsletter D.CMemo Subscribe Now Leave this field blank: Login or register to post comments Email Share Tweet Print Related Tags: Greater Minnesota About the Author: Greta Kaul Greta Kaul is MinnPost's data reporterShe can be reached at gkaul@minnpost.com. Comments (4) good job Submitted by Greg Price on February 8, 2018 - 9:22am great writeup...nice work on a lesser emphasized region of MN. Thank you greg price Login or register to post comments To me this expansion is logical Submitted by Gene Nelson on February 8, 2018 - 11:27am To me, this expansion is logical. First of all, due to I-90, I-35 and US 169 being 4 lanes, makes it easier for people to commute from a location with more affordable housing. Secondly, as the metro area become more populated and property values jump...businesses move further out...as it's cheaper to buy property outside the congested areas. Login or register to post comments I personally believe that Submitted by Scot Kindschi on February 8, 2018 - 2:29pm I personally believe that less is better. Login or register to post comments Otsego Submitted by Matt Wells on February 8, 2018 - 5:14pm I’m guessing you meant Otsego, not Houston (which is not in Central Minnesota) Login or register to post comments OAS_AD("Right1"); Recent Stories Second Opinion Childhood asthma rates are declining, but disparities persist Politics & Policy What Rick Nolan’s retirement means for the race in Minnesota’s 8th District MNopedia In the ’50s, using a cartoon bear to advertise beer was totally fine Mental Health & Addiction Cut! 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