It was just one chart in a 14-page MetroStats report released this spring by the research team at the Metropolitan Council — and what it showed was curious, if not totally unexpected.
The authors titled it, “Percent change in total employment between 2000 and 2014 by sub-regions in the Twin Cities.” But it might as well have been called, “Where the job-growth isn’t.”
The data showed that two sub-regions of the metro area — suburban Hennepin County and the city of St. Paul — each had net job losses of more than 11,000 over that decade and a half.
The numbers looked a bit better for suburban Ramsey County and the city of Minneapolis, but not by much. Both areas showed job growth of less than 1 percent over the period. Taken as a whole, the region has added 40,593 jobs since 2000. But nearly all of the growth was in Dakota, Anoka, Carver, Scott and Washington counties.
The overall report was more buoyant, noting that the region has regained jobs lost to the recession faster than the nation as a whole. It’s job growth is 14th among the top 25 regions in the U.S. when measured by average annual job growth. Minnesota’s current unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, well below the nation’s 5.5 percent.
But the subregional numbers tell a story of uneven growth. The two biggest cities and the two biggest counties are still big players in the regional economy, of course. Minneapolis is home to 19 percent of the Metro’s jobs, while suburban Hennepin County has another 34 percent. That’s more than 850,000 jobs. Smaller but still significant is St. Paul with 11 percent and suburban Ramsey County with another 9 percent.
But after suffering through two recessions in the years studied in the report — the post- 9/11 downturn and the Great Recession — those areas are net losers or are flat in job growth. Also net job losers during the period are Bloomington, Plymouth, Edina, Minnetonka and Roseville. In contrast, Dakota County gained 40,593 jobs over the same time period — nearly two-thirds of the region’s job growth, while Scott County had a job growth of 26 percent. Among cities, big job gainers were Maple Grove and Eagan, each gaining more than 10,000 jobs.
What might be surprising to a lay person is less so to economists and researchers. Libby Starling, who manages the team that produced the report, Met Council’s Regional Policy and Research group, says the time period covered by the chart is significant since it begins before the economic events that cost the region more than 63,000 jobs.
“The post 9-11 recession is where Minneapolis lost a lot of jobs,” Starling said. “It is just now picking up.” Two significant corporate actions help explain the job losses in St. Paul and suburban Hennepin County — the closure of the Ford plant and its 5,000 jobs in St. Paul and the merger of Northwest Airlines and Delta that cost the region a corporate headquarters.
Louis D. Johnston, an economics professor at the McCarthy Center at St. John’s University (and a MinnPost contributor), said the chart reflects a familiar and long-running pattern. “Hennepin has 53 percent of all employment, and businesses are probably moving just over the border to Scott and Carver, same with Ramsey to Washington and Dakota counties,” he said. “There’s a pattern you see since World War II in these moves: firms that start in St. Paul stay on the St. Paul side (e.g. West Publishing, now Thomson-Reuters, started in downtown St. Paul and went to Eagan) and those in Minneapolis stay on that side (General Mills moved from the milling district to Golden Valley.) It’s still two business ecosystems that keep sprawling outward.”
Starling sees a somewhat different but related pattern. There are certainly employment centers in the outer counties that have attracted regional and national employers. But as people move into the so-called collar counties, jobs in education, health services and retail follow to serve that population. “Jobs follow the residential growth,” she said.
According to the report, “Many of the cities where job growth is rapid — such as Blaine, Shakopee, Woodbury and Chanhassen — are in the region’s Suburban Edge or Emerging Suburban Edge and are experiencing fast residential development and growth as well.”
Starling suggests that those looking for some more-encouraging numbers look at the same data set but limit the time period to between 2010 and 2014. The first year marks the trough of the recessionary job losses. Since then, all subregions of the Metro show positive job growth numbers, some growing significantly.
Suburban Hennepin County, for example, gained 60,128 jobs from 2010 to 2014, while Minneapolis gained 26,626. On the other side of the river, Ramsey County added 8,471 jobs and St. Paul grew by 1,077 in that same period.