New year brings decision time

  • Article by: STAFF WRITERS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 2, 2012 - 9:21 AM

Will your home finally regain some of its lost value? Where can you find better job opportunities? How will our state and country be shaped by the fall elections? Those big questions and many smaller ones loom as a new year begins that could hold major consequences for how Minnesotans live.


Clockwise from top: Will housing recover? Sports goes high tech. Big boxes turn micro? Do Vikes get a stadium? Commuting. Block E casino?

Will your home finally regain some of its lost value? Where can you find better job opportunities? How will our state and country be shaped by the fall elections?
Those big questions and many smaller ones loom as a new year begins that could hold major consequences for how Minnesotans live. Before the end of 2012, voters will decide the future of gay marriage and lawmakers will decide whether to expand gambling to help pay for a Vikings stadium.
The year will also bring scores of other changes that are sure to be felt every day.
We asked experts across the Twin Cities to forecast the months ahead — or make their best, bold guesses about how life may change this year.
Their answers — covering everything from the future of big-box stores to whether hunters will get electric clothing — may surprise you.



The year 2012 will be an endless feast for political junkies. From the Iowa caucuses Tuesday to the final vote counting on the evening of Nov. 6, politics in this presidential election year will be unavoidable.

We should know soon whether U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann can survive in the Republican presidential race, or whether she will drop back into the campaign for her congressional seat.

It may take longer to see if Minnesota Republicans can find their footing after losing top leaders to scandal and mismanagement. Their to-do list is big: mount a strong challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (below) and defend historic 2010 wins in the Eighth Congressional District and the Minnesota Legislature.

This will be the year Minnesotans fight over and vote on the issue of same-sex marriage, and whether it should be constitutionally banned. And the fight will continue over a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, and whether expanded gambling should help pay for it. All 201 legislative seats are up for grabs this year, in newly drawn districts, suggesting that the Vikings' lousy season on the field in 2011 could be followed by an equally tough time at the Capitol in 2012.



In Minnesota, educators have designs on 2012 being the Year of the Young Child. So far, all the pieces are coming together.

Beginning this winter, the first payouts from nearly $80 million in federal early childhood and school preparation grants will arrive.

The state also will lead a statewide literacy campaign designed to get more students reading by third grade and unveil new teacher and principal evaluation systems, state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said.

The efforts are all part of a push to narrow, by half, the state's academic achievement gap between white and non-white students by 2018.

The plan? Better prepare children for school and then maintain that momentum.



The economy isn't quite out of the woods yet and job growth is still somewhat anemic. But some professions look better than others.

"A lot of the high-demand occupations are in the health care area," said Steve Hine, director of labor market information research for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. "It's one area that continued to grow through the recession."

Hine's office ranks jobs based on vacancy rates -- not necessarily wages or benefits. Health-related jobs took four of the top 12 spots, led by registered nurses (median wage $73,639) and licensed practical nurses ($39,000), then medical and health services managers ($89,706) and home health aides ($23,000).



Fliers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport could find stabilized airfares and more direct flights in 2012, according to Terry Trippler, owner of

The Minneapolis-based airline analyst predicts that airfares will remain flat or rise only slightly this year, unless oil prices jump. "Fuel is the wild card here," he said.

Trippler also expects that more nonstop flights will originate at MSP. The airport has nudged out Detroit's as the second-most-important hub for Delta, after Atlanta, because the broad-based economy of Minnesota and the surrounding states has remained relatively strong while Detroit's has tanked.



For housing experts, crystal balls are in particularly short supply, but there is one thing on which most agree: The Twin Cities market won't show meaningful signs of recovery until the economy gets stronger.

So with the economy still struggling, don't expect a 2012 housing recovery. Still, the market will show signs of stability, probably during the second half of the year, experts predict.

Whether that means higher prices depends on where you live. In areas with strong demand and few foreclosures, prices will likely edge up. But huge pockets of the market will see prices continue to fall, in part because foreclosures could represent about a third of all deals.

Also expect mortgage rates to stay low at least through the first half of the year.

David Blitzer, chairman of the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, said an increase in housing starts and modest improvements in employment in recent months bode well for housing. "Those are positive changes, but not so big that we should celebrate right away."


Consumer credit

If you're looking for a mortgage, brace yourself for deeper background checks as lenders put potential borrowers under bigger microscopes.

The CoreScore credit report that debuted in December is one example. Aimed at mortgage lenders, CoreScore dives into financial details not usually covered in traditional credit reports.

Missed a rent payment that went to collections? It will be in there, as will any payday loans you've ever taken out, property tax liens and alimony and child support payments.

"That's a big theme for 2012 -- to continue to understand the changing dynamic of consumer credit risk and build better models" said Joanne Gaskin, senior director of product management for scores and analytics at Minneapolis-based Fair Isaac Corp., which helped develop the new report with real estate research company CoreLogic.



Richard D'Amico, co-owner of D'Amico & Partners, which operates two dozen restaurants in the Twin Cities and Naples, Fla., is bullish on the farm-to-table movement, particularly its next wrinkle: sea to table. In the coming year, the company is going to enlist its own fishermen to catch a significant portion of its Florida restaurants' seafood inventory, and then expand the program to its Twin Cities properties. "It's really exciting," he said.

D'Amico foresees a shakeout in the overbuilt restaurant market, where landlords are covering the costs of underperforming restaurant tenants, rather than risk evicting them and starting over with an expensive new tenant.

"It's almost like the housing bubble," he said. "It can't sustain itself, any longer, and it's going to crash."


Health care

As for trends in health care, think high-tech. It's where a huge chunk of money, jobs, education and public policy is heading.

More than $30 billion in taxpayer money in recent years has gone to help doctors and hospitals set up computerized medical records, and to help colleges train the next generation of health information technology workers.

It's a hot industry for speculators, too. More than 60 percent of venture capitalists plan to increase their investment in health IT in 2012, according to an industry survey.

With a looming 2014 deadline for Medicare providers to get their medical records online or face a financial penalty, the next big thing may be up in the clouds. Cloud computing, that is. It's a type of computing based on sharing resources rather than having local servers or personal devices handle applications, and for many health providers, it will be simpler to set up and cheaper to maintain.

"The biggest failing of electronic medical records has been that they've historically been very parochial," and not really designed to be linked together, said Steve Parente, a health care economist at the University of Minnesota.

Cloud-based alternatives, he said, "could be a potential game-changer for health IT."


Urban cores

Minneapolis has nothing if not ambitious plans. In December, the city's Downtown Council released its Downtown 2025 plan for the city calling for a Vikings stadium near Target Field to create a downtown sports district, a chain of parks and a resurgence of activity on Nicollet Mall.

It might not all happen, and it certainly won't happen overnight. But some long-stalled projects downtown should finally emerge, including the Lunds supermarket at 12th Street and Hennepin Avenue S. and the redevelopment of a former Jaguar dealership also on Hennepin Avenue S. into a $70 million apartment and grocery complex.

More condominiums and apartments downtown also are possible, said Prof. Dave Brennan, co-director of the University of St. Thomas' Institute for Retailing Excellence.

Unfortunately, St. Paul might not see the same activity, at least in retail, he said. "Downtown St. Paul has diminished in its size and intensity and diversity in retail," Brennan said.

More importantly, St. Paul might lose a key anchor. Macy's has a loan from the city that will only be forgiven if it stays until the end of the year. Brennan expects the store could likely close after that.



A drive to expand MnPASS toll lanes, stalled last year amid bipartisan opposition, will rev up in earnest in the coming months. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has identified eight highway corridors as candidates for the electronic tolling over the next few years. At the top of the list: Interstate 35E in the northeast metro.

"We've been spending the last six months meeting with legislators," said Nick Thompson, director of policy, safety and strategic initiatives at MnDOT. The agency expects to get approval in 2012 for developing 35E.

He sees MnPASS as the key to stretching scarce transportation dollars and giving motorists the discretion to pay for faster travel when they want it.

Cultural shifts might also relieve rush-hour traffic. "We're finding that tele-working is starting to change the dynamics of the commute," Thompson said. "That affects the entire commute package for the future."



In 2012, less will be more, according to retail expert Carol Speickerman.

Struggling chains like Sears, Christopher & Banks, and Gap will continue to shut down stores to save cash. At the same time, retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy will experiment with smaller formats instead of building big-box stores, said Speickerman, president of newmarketbuilders, a retail management consulting firm based in Bentonville, Ark., home of Wal-Mart.

As consumers continue to flock to online shopping, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have been seeking less-costly areas of growth instead of spending gobs of money on 125,000-plus-square-foot boxes.

Best Buy, based in Richfield, is rolling out Best Buy Mobile stores, while Minneapolis-based Target experiments with CityTarget in dense cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles. The smaller stores, which focus more on everyday essentials, are about half the size of normal Targets.

Still if shoppers also subscribe to the less-is-more philosophy, the economy could continue its anemic growth. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity.


Pro sports

For the first time, the NFL will live-stream the Super Bowl online and on certain mobile phones.

So long, Barcalounger; hello, Wi-Fi?

Not yet. The majority of fans still will watch the game on television, but the NFL is looking to move the needle even further on incorporating technology with sports. Streaming coverage will include features such as additional camera angles, highlights and statistics.

Technology is changing daily and the sports world is trying to keep pace in order to enhance the fan experience. The three other major professional sports leagues offer live streaming of games with a paid subscription.

As Fox Sports North general manager Mike Dimond joked, "The Internet is not going away."



The Next Big Thing in the outdoors is here today -- electric clothes.

And it's no joke.

Usually powered by small lithium batteries, electric jackets, boots and gloves offer an essential item for hunters, skiers, and other winter outdoor enthusiasts: heat.

Technological advances mean the electric clothing isn't bulky or heavy. But warmth comes with a price. Columbia offers an electric camouflage parka for waterfowl hunters that lists at $1,200. The batteries last four to six hours.

But as prices drop and effectiveness improves, electric clothing has potential implications for consumers, as well as wildlife. If hunters and anglers can stay warm, they are likely to remain afield longer. That could affect the harvest of deer, geese, ducks, fish and other species.

Could that force the DNR to eventually reduce bag limits? We'll see.


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