Tom Gillaspy, longtime state demographer, to retire

Tom Gillaspy
MinnPost photo by Sean SmudaTom Gillaspy

Retiring State Demographer Tom Gillaspy said his exit from a 30-year stint in state government doesn’t mean he’ll be any less busy working with the population data he loves.

Gillaspy, who has studied Minnesota’s population for the local, state and federal governments, as well as for other organizations, since 1979, will retire Tuesday. Susan Brower, a former research associate for Wilder Research who has been in training since the mid-summer, will replace him.

“It’s time to pass the torch,” Gillaspy said on Thursday, sitting in his small office in the Centennial Office Building down the street from the state Capitol. “I’ve got plenty to do, plenty to keep me out of trouble.”

The state demographer works with the U.S. Census Bureau to coordinate the population count in Minnesota each decade. The office also supplies lawmakers with demographic information that determines state support for numerous programs like Local Government Aid.

The office also investigates individual questions from lawmakers and other groups for specialized scenarios.

‘Broad waterfront’

“[Demography] sort of covers a very broad waterfront, but we’re bringing highly specialized skills to a very general set of questions,” he said.

Gillaspy’s plans stretch into the decades. He’s constantly thinking about the next census or the next state 50-year plan, and the animated 64-year-old is genuinely excited by his work.

Even in retirement, Gillaspy said he’ll continue investigating his passions, including the effects of an aging population on the state work force. Without much prompt, he can launch into a detailed explanation of how Social Security is likely to change and what’s required to keep Minnesota productive as more baby boomers retire.

“I’m going from being part of the solution to being part of the problem,” Gillaspy joked about his retirement.

As it happens, now is the perfect time for Gillaspy step down. Much of the 2010 Census data has been released, it’s early in the new decade and it’s a non-budget year, which makes right now ripe for a successor to step in.

“If there’s a perfect month for me to retire, it is the third month of the year ending in two,” he said, almost like a formula. “In other words, March 2012.”

Work will continue

Gillaspy said he’ll still continue speaking – he makes between 150 and 200 speeches a year – and start a blog to continue investigating the data that has made up his life’s work.

“Retirement for me means more that I just won’t have a regular paycheck,” Gillaspy said. “ I’m not sure it makes that much of a difference in terms of schedule.”

He said Brower and other demographers are entering into one of the most interesting decades their profession has ever seen.  The productivity crisis in Greece and more broadly in Europe, and the staggering number of workers leaving the labor force in China have demographers’ full attention.

‘Really an exciting time’

“This is going to be a decade unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” he said, “so it’s really an exciting time.”

Brower said helping lawmakers stay on top of the massive shifts in Minnesota’s work force will be the principal challenge of her new job.

There will be a retirement party for Gillaspy in the Minnesota Department of Transportation cafeteria from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Gillaspy won’t miss the work, he said, because he’ll still be so immersed in it.

“I’ve had really a kick learning about Minnesota,” he said. “It’s the kind of place that the more you’re around it, the more intimate you are with it, the more you realize it really is pretty beautiful and pretty special.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Aaron Brown on 03/02/2012 - 11:12 am.

    Good luck

    Having had the chance to interview Mr. Gillaspy a couple times for radio and newspaper work I must say that he is probably the person in Minnesota who is best at and most suited for his job. I still think about some of the statistical analyses he shared with me to determine how numbers correlate with real life elements. A true professional. I look forward to his future work. Good luck, Tom!

  2. Submitted by Mike Downing on 03/02/2012 - 11:49 am.

    A GREAT State Demographer!

    Tom Gillaspy has been a GREAT State Demographer. Thank you for serving the citizens of MN!!!

    Retiring State Demographer Tom Gillaspy has been warning the state legislature for decades about the baby boomer generation and its impact on the state budget. Unfortunately, the tax & spend legislature has ignored his warnings up to the 2011 & 2012 legislative sessions.

    Tom Gillaspy has said state & local gov’t must become more efficient & more productive, just like the private sector has become, in order to address the lower state revenues as the baby boomers retire. Go to YouTude and search for his many videos and heed his warnings and understand his recommendations for gov’t reform.

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