The region’s future is bright and is poised for global success. We have the assets, the talent and capabilities to continue the growth enjoyed recently.
As Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s term comes to an end, it is important to recognize his contributions to the region. He has led his city through a period of revitalization, and he, along with others, has been a catalyst driving greater cooperation and a shared vision for how great this region can be. We hope that his successor will continue to carry the banner of regionalism and help the people and businesses here to prosper.
Regionalism … to some, it may seem like a radical concept for an expansive, 16-county area with two major urban areas, many significant suburban locations and a strong rural component. Can we who comprise these disparate populations and areas effectively act as one?
The answer is that we have to if we are going to successfully compete in the global marketplace. Economic regions, more than political boundaries, are defining markets and driving economic growth in the global economy today. It is by working together to leverage regional assets that we will be able to grow and prosper into the future.
Our region’s Greater MSP partnership, which I lead, is one of many groups engaged in economic development. Economic development refers to the concerted actions of individuals and communities to promote economic health. Often this means focusing on helping businesses large and small to expand and grow in our region.
We recognize that existing businesses will account for 80 percent of our region’s economic growth, and we want to help them to continue to succeed. The balance will come through the attraction of investors and companies. Our ability to help new or existing businesses to grow, lies in our ability to coordinate regionally and work to make them successful.
When we work with businesses looking to grow or relocate, workforce is by far the most important aspect they want us to address. Does our region have the quality and quantity of workers needed to make their businesses successful?
Workforce is an issue that transcends municipal boundaries and is truly addressed regionally. Approximately 85 percent of the residents of the region commute up to 24 miles for their jobs. They regularly cross city and county boundaries. A business growing in our region can expect to draw workers from throughout the area.
The good news is that the quality of our workforce is one of the best in world. We need to recognize and celebrate that. There is no room for Minnesota modesty here — 72 percent of our adults are engaged in the workforce. This leads the United States, and compares with a national average of 64 percent.
In our region, 93 percent of working adults have graduated from high school (again the highest in the nation), and at every degree level our population surpasses the U.S. average. Employers with facilities in multiple locations in the country tell us that our workforce is more productive than that found elsewhere. (Anecdotally, we have heard that it is 30 percent more productive.) Test scores among our students rival those of students around the world. We are fortunate to have the workforce that we do.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t have challenges. We do, and we need to address them. The racial disparities in achievement are unacceptable and need to be closed. (Fortunately, many people are working on this.)
Similarly, we need to increase our students’ competency in the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We cannot afford to have any students not performing up to standard. We can see that, given our region’s projected rate of economic growth, we will have a shortage of workers in seven to 10 years if we don’t act now. Even if every student can successfully graduate high school, we will have a shortfall of workers.
Our region currently sees more adults leaving each year than moving here. Talented workers are our region’s greatest strength, and we are facing a shortage. We need to take steps now in order to improve the performance of all of our students and attract and retain more workers.
As the working population declines through retirement, our companies will need talent. Technology is making it easier for workers to work from anyplace in the world. Attitudes of younger adults have shifted so that they will choose a home first, then find a job, rather than relocate for their job. More choice will mean happier workers, but it will also be a challenge.
We need to address this as a region — and, again, we have a great story to tell. Our business community is unique in terms of its depth and diversity of companies. We have strength in a number of industries that will grow in the decades ahead: health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, information technology, and food and water technology. These industries will create opportunities and continue to attract the brightest minds to our region.
And throughout our region we enjoy a quality of life that is available only in the largest of cities. What is your passion? Odds are that you can exercise it here. Almost every quality-of-life ranking list puts the greater Twin Cities area near the top.
Sports, theater, art museums and galleries. An exciting restaurant scene. Nature is never far, with parks, bike paths, ski trails and lakes. Access to the best health care in the country. Ours is a livable region — easy to navigate and relatively low cost of living.
For too long, we have allowed our region’s story to be told by national meteorologists in the middle of winter. Our citizens long ago figured out how to deal with winter and even enjoy it. Winter is another of our great assets.
In recent years, we have made significant investments in transportation infrastructure. Efficiently moving workers will be critical to our success. Our residents can choose to live in a variety of locations and types of environments, yet they can access jobs and amenities throughout the region.
The growth that our companies will see must leverage locations and land throughout the area. For them to thrive, we need to make sure workers can get to work. The average commute in our region is 24 minutes, the lowest of any metro area our size.
As our population grows, it will be difficult to maintain that short commute without a strong public transit system. It will be difficult to ensure that our companies can find the workforce they need. Fortunately, we have laid a groundwork from which to build.
Our region is ready to take its place on the global stage. Rybak has been a key player in preparing us for global leadership. We have a number of building blocks to use. And we have many challenging issues and difficult decisions ahead: the achievement gap, the business tax environment, urban density, and talent attraction, to name a few.
The next leader of our largest city will need to be ready and willing to lead us through these challenges, build coalitions and outline a vision for our success. We at Greater MSP look forward to working with the new Minneapolis to achieve regional success.
Michael Langley is CEO of Greater MSP.