With the nation's 13th-largest metro economy and a relatively high potential for growth, Minneapolis-St. Paul could soon begin to generate new jobs in a noticeable way. If that happens, it matters where those jobs are located.
That's the message behind a new category of grants offered by the Metropolitan Council aimed at stimulating economic development along transit lines. So far, nearly all of the grants -- $25.5 million for 30 projects in 2011 and 2012 -- have helped to build transit-oriented housing.
But the grants are also intended for prospective employers. The message is a good one: If you're thinking about adding jobs in the metro area, consider a site on the transit grid.
That's a good idea for three reasons. First, it's good for business. Few fundamentals are more important to business than a productive, reliable workforce. Transit offers workers choice, flexibility and cost savings in their daily commutes.
It also opens up space on the freeways for other commuters and for the shipping of goods, a critical factor in a just-in-time economy. Transit also helps this metro region compete in the wider marketplace amid growing evidence that talented young people want to live and work in settings that offer transportation options and urban lifestyles.
Second, it's good for the environment. Imagine 200 of your workers riding an electric-powered light-rail train vs. the same 200 driving separate cars. Now calculate the impact on air quality and climate stability.
Third, it's good for the national interest. While the nation is progressing remarkably toward energy independence, conservation is critical to reaching that goal. Businesses can help by selecting job locations that maximize efficiency for workers and shipments.
These points aren't meant to sound heavyhanded; employers generally know what's best for their companies. But too often transit advantages aren't considered when making location decisions. They should be, especially as the Central, Southwest and Bottineau light-rail corridors emerge over the next decade, and as bus rapid transit expands.
After a decade in the doldrums, the housing industry is finally responding to the region's multibillion-dollar investment in modern transit, with thousands of apartments going up or planned near the Hiawatha and Central corridors.
Likewise, the Twins and Vikings were smart to locate new stadiums at rail stations, demonstrating the transit benefits of major destinations. Among employers, UnitedHealthcare has been a leader in recognizing the benefits of the future Southwest line to expanding its campus in Eden Prairie.
The Met Council is right to offer grants as a way of demonstrating the value of these decisions and encouraging more of them. This month's award of $10.1 million to 13 projects leveraged $205 million in private investment, according to council chair Susan Haigh. "It's exciting to see all these projects coming forward," she said. "It's a sign that this market is getting ready to come zooming back."
With land prices again on the rise, however, these few grants won't be sufficient to offset cost advantages enjoyed by cheaper sites off the transit grid. That's why the Legislature, when it convenes next month, should consider allowing cities to "capture value" from land along transit routes as a way of leveraging more private investment near stations.
After all, location does matter.