Job growth in Twin Cities driven by ‘Suburban Edge,’ according to Met Council report

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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.

Net change in employment, 2010–2014
Overall job growth in the Twin Cities metro region was driven by suburban counties.
Source: Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, 2000 and 2014.

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.”

Change in total jobs between 2000 to 2014 for cities and townships in the Twin Cities region
Source: Metropolitan Council

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.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 05/06/2015 - 11:28 am.

    Not Surprising but…

    I’d love to see this broken down in 5 year increments. I think what happened in 2000-2004 is a lot different than what happened in 2010-2014.

  2. Submitted by David Broden on 05/06/2015 - 11:43 am.

    Job Location vs. What Type of Jobs Where?

    The job distribution report provides a picture of where jobs are in the metro area and can be useful. A more useful breakdown that seems to be difficult to address or to find is what are the job types in each areas and why. Many of us who follow this economic data would like to see more meaningful info such as what type of business is growing where, what are the job categories, and how will the jobs grow. Categories of interest are; management, professional -e.g. engineering, medical, etc., retail, technicians, manufacturing skills-CAD/CAM, digital workers, IT, etc, ; touch labor workers, service workers etc.We need to begin to focus not only on the jobs but the type of jobs and apply that data to economic development. It is only with the professional jobs that new products will evolve to be made by technicians and production workers. The question I ask is do the public policy folks pay attention to the type or only the total – from all the analysis we seem focused on total – economic development needs both.
    Dave Broden

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/06/2015 - 01:47 pm.

    It would be interesting

    to see a breakdown of private sector versus public sector jobs. I’m betting most of the job growth in Minneapolis and St. Paul are government jobs which aren’t as desirable considering the taxpayers are on the hook for pensions well after the employee is gone, whereas private sector employers pay for their own employees with private money.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/06/2015 - 04:34 pm.


      And not terribly difficult to find out. I won’t do the research for you, but here’s a hint…Joint Economic Committee and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  4. Submitted by David Broden on 05/06/2015 - 02:21 pm.

    Another Dimension to the Discussion of Jobs vs. Economic Develop

    I am definite supporter of the sports focus and reaching for super games, world fair etc. — we seem to have an announcement of some new pursuit for a game for event each month. I will ask if we are serious about long term solid job development in any part of the metro area we need to have more visible economic development announcements. When was the last time anyone heard a news conference or heads up announcement of a major new economic development thrust and activity. If MN is and I do agree the Education State- and we have the U of M with top engineering and life science schools as well as a very strong votech community why does this not suggest we should be pushing and leveraging these capabiltiies just like we do for the stadium crowd. We need the professionals and others to keep it all rolling.
    Dave Broden

  5. Submitted by Peter Roethke on 05/06/2015 - 05:18 pm.

    Reality may not conform to your ideological assumptions…

    The article states that in the four years between 2010 and 2014, the city of Minneapolis gained 26,626 jobs, which is a lot. If the city really was able to create thousands of additional government jobs a year for multiple years in a row, it probably wouldn’t be able to sustain it’s AAA credit rating, which it has. It might be possible with a large increase in tax revenue (which itself would indicate a healthy economy, barring large tax increases) to create large amounts of new positions without endangering creditworthiness. But if this really was the driver, the author (or the Met Council report) would certainly have mentioned it, which it didn’t. So, it’s probably safe to say that the lion’s share of job growth was in the private sector.

  6. Submitted by David Broden on 05/06/2015 - 09:05 pm.

    Follow up to previous Comments

    The future of MN depends on how the state prepares Human Capital for all job categories and what companies enter and grow in MN. We all know economies change and we must adapt. The MN Post article refers to change with NWA leaving- how about the loss of most of Honeywell, then ATK, GD, Lockheed and more.Did the med tech industry and 3M replace the full spectrum of employees that we in the above mentioned. We need to be sure that all spectrum are addressed. Regarding the data – I know the BLS data well and it is good for what it is but it is widely accepted that the categories defined some 70+ years ago do not reflect job categories of today– nor do we separate well the government from business/industry. The link between what we educate for and what the jobs are or will be is weak and almost not present. MN can be a leader in educated workforce and economic growth if we have a vision of private-public partnership to look forward. To begin we all need to buy into the need for economic development at all job categoires linked to jobs. The question is will this happen???
    Dave Broden

  7. Submitted by ben stein on 05/07/2015 - 07:27 am.

    Jobs vs Population Change

    One of the frustrating statistics is how many jobs have been lost or gained when population change is not considered. If 30k jobs have been created but the working population has increased by 60k it is not necessarily good news. These discussions should show both data sets to be more meaningful.

  8. Submitted by David Broden on 05/07/2015 - 08:15 am.

    Big Data and “Its Value”

    The dialogue thou only a couple of us- is good. Once again the real issue popping up is “Big Data”- we have or can get lots of data but how to use and interpret the data to have meaningful understanding leading to actions is the concern. As it anyone who uses the info can draw the conclusion that fits a special interest- that is OK but we need to look beyond the data to why we are looking and find the answers and plan action. Human capital and jobs is one of the greatest prirorities.

    Dave Broden

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