As 2013 wakes us with a brisk and bracing start, some predictions for the year ahead are crystal clear.
Many Minnesotans will escape to Hawaii, but they'll also worry about invaders in our home waters. We'll need more health care, and the system will dramatically change. Job gains may slow, but those driving to work could pay more. A new Vikings stadium will start to rise up, and technology will infuse our lives even more, impossible as that seems.
We asked experts in the Twin Cities and beyond to peer ahead into the changes we face this year -- for better or for worse.
The name of the game in health care reform last year was uncertainty. This year, it's a mad scramble.
The federal Affordable Care Act survived a U.S. Supreme Court challenge and, by proxy, a presidential election. Now, the rush is on as employers, state legislators, doctors, hospitals and insurers scramble to meet a 2014 deadline when much of the law kicks in.
Minnesota lawmakers have three months to pass a bill laying out how a state-run insurance exchange will work. This new approach is designed to help individuals and small businesses buy more affordable options.
Meanwhile, it's a big year for businesses that don't provide insurance for their workers and are too big to shop on the exchange -- those with 50 or more full-time-equivalent workers. They must either offer an affordable plan or pay a fine and send workers to the exchange.
It's simple math. Millions more Americans will be seeking health care in the coming years, and there won't be enough primary care doctors to care for them. As a result, nurse practitioners and other health professionals are expected to step into the breach, providing more front-line care for routine and chronic health problems.
The trend has been growing for some time, but health reform is likely to speed it up. As clinics look for ways to control costs and handle more patients, many are using teams of nurses, physician assistants, coaches and others to help manage conditions like diabetes and depression, with doctors overseeing or handling the most complex cases.
This year, the Minnesota Legislature may decide if nurse practitioners should be able to practice even more independently. Doctors' groups oppose that, saying that oversight is necessary for patient safety.
Job growth crept in the right direction last year for all sectors except mining and logging. Minnesota added 55,200 jobs. But economists don't expect the same magic in 2013.
In fact, the threat of a fiscal cliff tax hike and the melting of holiday hiring are expected to blot away the thrill of Minnesota's November job gains, which hit a robust 10,800. (Retailers added 9,300 jobs during the month to produce the best hiring in 10 years.)
"The Minnesota labor market continues to make progress. [It has] recovered more than 100,000 jobs since September 2009," said Katie Clark Sieben, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
But don't expect it to last. "It would not be surprising if that 10,000- to 11,000-job growth we've seen in two of the last three months softens a bit," said Steve Hine, director of Minnesota's Labor Market Information Office.
As it does every year, the temporary boost in holiday retail jobs will fade early in the new year. The usually robust temporary and business services job sector already dropped in Minnesota by 1,900 positions in November. And manufacturers feared that the fiscal cliff could steal jobs from factories in 2013.
Motorists still grumble about getting on the so-called freeway and needing to pay to drive in a faster lane.
But the Twin Cities electronic toll system called MnPASS shows clear signs of gaining social acceptance. The best benchmark is Interstate 35W between Burnsville and downtown Minneapolis, which opened MnPASS lanes in late 2010.
MnPASS use increased by 30 percent from 2011 to 2012 on that segment and on a much smaller stretch opened more recently. That's 2,421 new drivers.
Brian Kary, freeway operations engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, predicts that trend will continue in 2013 as more drivers accept electronic tolls. "People are catching on more to the idea, realizing that we can't build our way out of congestion, we've got to look at other options."
By most measures, 2012 was a turnaround year for the housing market in the Twin Cities and beyond, with home sales up double-digits compared with the previous year. Experts say that 2013 will be a continuation of that trend, though increases in sales and prices might not be as large simply because those numbers will be compared with 2012 -- a year of relative strength.
Ron Peltier, chairman and CEO of HomeServices of America, the nation's second-largest real estate holding company, said he expects price increases in the 7 to 9 percent range and a 15 percent increase in sales. Those predictions are ahead of the national average.
"We're coming off unbelievable lows of 2011," Peltier said. "We're trying to make up for lost time."
This could be the year that Minnesotans decide whether to embrace a new and bitterly contested kind of mining in the wildest and most scenic corner of the state.
PolyMet Mining's open pit copper and precious metals mine near Hoyt Lakes in northeastern Minnesota is expected to come up for environmental review in the summer, a key turning point in a project that has been in the works for nearly a decade.
The review, which outlines how the project would meet state and federal standards to protect air and, more critically, water, will be opened to the public for debate.
Such hard-rock mines have brought environmental troubles. When exposed to air and water, the ore-bearing rock can leach sulfuric acid and heavy metals into ground and surface water, poisoning wildlife. PolyMet's mine would drain into the St. Louis River and eventually Lake Superior.
Company officials say they expect that with new technologies and stringent oversight, the project will meet environmental standards. This summer Minnesotans will find out how.
Expect to see retailers and alternative lenders encroaching further onto traditional bank territory in 2013, adding to the long list of challenges for U.S. banks. Bankers are already grappling with tighter regulation, general weak loan demand, the subpar economic recovery and seriously low interest rates.
Then there's the general frustration many feel with banks. Non-banks continue to edge in. Wal-Mart and American Express have teamed up to offer customers a prepaid debit-like card called Bluebird. In 2011 Costco rolled out a full-service mortgage lending and refinance program on its website. Discover Financial Services will introduce checking accounts in 2013. Now Amazon.com is wading into lending, making online loans to merchants.
Jay Smith, Costco's director of business and financial services, said Internet use has helped fuel the trend. "I think we'll see more of that cross-marketing among providers," he said.
Hmmmm. Fries with that refinance?
Regardless of what happens on the field, the coming year should be an exciting one for the Minnesota Vikings off of it.
After years of contentious debate, the team's dream of playing in snazzy new digs is on the verge of coming to life.
"I do think 2013 is going to be a big year," said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public body overseeing construction of the $975 million Minneapolis stadium.
Within weeks, the authority and team will hire a construction manager to lay out a timetable and determine what can be built within budget. By March, fans will get their first glimpse of a schematic design. Key to the drawings: whether the building will have a retractable roof or other retractable feature. Refinements will follow, but the initial design "will set the tone," Kelm-Helgen said.
The authority and team hope to break ground at the Metrodome site in October and open by fall 2016.
High-definition TV and a struggling economy have hurt attendance at pro sports events. It's cheaper and more relaxing to watch games from the couch. Teams are trying to combat that with in-game technology.
Yinzcam is one option. It gives fans at games access on phone or tablet to statistics, news conferences, even the RedZone channel. (The Vikings don't offer it in the Metrodome.)
The company was started by Priya Narasimhan, who hadn't attended a professional sporting event until she moved to Pittsburgh in 2001 to become a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Narasimhan had trouble seeing from her nosebleed seats at a Penguins hockey game, so the computer engineer developed a smartphone app. She said 30-plus teams from the NFL, NHL and NBA use Yinzcam.
"As a fan," Narasimhan said, "I just wanted my home experience to be synonymous with my stadium experience."
Peter Sorensen and his new Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center might be all that stands in the way of Asian carp, zebra mussels and other nasty critters forever changing Minnesota's lakes and rivers -- and the fishing, swimming and boating they provide.
The center at the University of Minnesota is up and running, launched with $3.8 million from the lottery and Legacy Fund. Its ambitious goal: to slow the spread of invasive species and eradicate them from state waters.
But with the number of infested lakes and rivers growing yearly -- and with more Asian carp showing up in our rivers -- some think it's too late to get the genie back in the bottle.
Not Sorensen, director of the center. "You can't just throw up your arms and give up,'' he says. "It's not too late.''
Francophiles and sun lovers take note. In May, Air France will join Delta Airlines in providing direct flights from here to Paris. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Airports Commission hopes to regain direct flights to Honolulu by offering incentives to any airline that flies the route. According to the 2013 travel trends survey by Plymouth-based Travel Leaders, Maui, Honolulu and Kauai are among the top 10 domestic destinations for Minnesotans.
The 33 million travelers through Minneapolis-St. Paul airport will see other changes, said Patrick Hogan, MAC spokesman.
Terminal 1 will get an expanded international arrivals area, porter service and grab-and-go food at baggage claim. Flyers will be able to find the quickest security line by phone or on the MSP website. In Terminal 2, the auto rental facilities will expand, and new food options will be Surdyks Flights, Subway, Cocina del Barrio and Caribou Coffee. Hogan said the moves are in part "to make way for Jet Blue, should we ever be able to attract them here."
It's no surprise that new technology will play a big role in how we entertain ourselves, said Mary Meehan, co-founder of Panoramix Global, a consumer research consultancy based in Minneapolis. Here's what she flags:
• Information overload. Marketers are well aware that we're using social media while watching TV. Look for them to create tools that some will find magical and others will find creepy. One app, called Sonic Notify, picks up on the audio for your favorite show and sends related information to your smartphone. A viewer watching "Top Chef" may get recipes, photos and shopping tips.
• Defending your life. Meehan believes the novelty of posting pictures on Instagram and personal dirt on Facebook will take a back seat to a desire for privacy. You'll see people demanding control over their information. "People thought they had privacy, but they're realizing now that they really don't," she said.
• Doing it your way. Amazon's campaign to help people self-publish will grow. "It's such an American idea," she said.
• The year of the gun. Recent shootings have set off in-depth conversations about violence, and that will continue, Meehan said, especially about movies and television.
Poll: Which of these teams is the most frustrating to watch right now?