The next big things

  • Updated: January 1, 2010 - 10:16 AM

How will our lives in Minnesota and beyond be different in 2020? We ask experts around the Twin Cities to speculate.

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HOT JOBS

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Minnesotans who are 65 or older is expected to jump from 677,000 to nearly 948,000.

That "senior tsunami" as the baby-boom generation ages means we're going to need more pharmacists, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to take care of them. And construction workers will be building senior housing and centers.

Beyond that, according to Dave Hopkins, a marketing expert at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, the workforce is preparing for the arrival of the "millennials," generally those born between 1980 and 1995.

The "hot jobs" in the coming decade, he said, will be include nanotechnologists; robotics and energy resources engineers, and hydrologists.

What's equally interesting, Hopkins said, are the jobs that could go away as automation and online services grow: grocery clerks? bank tellers? Fewer pilots as more flights become automated? Fewer teachers because of online courses?

SUZANNE ZIEGLER

COMMUTING

New light-rail lines, many more MnPass lanes and cars that make driving decisions for you are in the commuting forecast for the next decade, says David Levinson, a civil engineering professor at the University of Minnesota.

Congestion levels won't change much, he said. The Twin Cities area will have more residents, but the aging population will be working less, and increased telecommuting will mean that people won't go into work as often.

The Southwest and Central Corridor rail lines are scheduled to start mid-decade, and one or two Minneapolis streetcar lines could be in the mix. Levinson expects highway expansion to mainly take the form of new MnPass lanes, which are for carpools, buses, motorcycles and toll-paying solo drivers.

He sees plug-in hybrids as the dominant car, meaning drivers will be buying less gas, so a per-mile fee will be implemented to replace lost tax revenue. Cars will keep getting safer, he said, with features such as automatic emergency braking and cruise control that adapts to the speed of surrounding traffic.

JIM FOTI

ENVIRONMENT

The next big thing in the Minnesota environment will be small and green.

The emerald ash borer, which made its first state appearance in St. Paul last May, is a threat to the state's 900 million ash trees. The coming decade will determine whether vigilance and containment strategies will protect some of those, or whether the bug will win.

But the ash borer is also a symbol of a larger imminent threat: invasive species, pushed here by global trade, global warming, accidents and human and animal travel.

Zebra mussels and milfoil are likely to spread in state waterways, said Luke Skinner, supervisor of the invasive species program for the Minnesota DNR. The gypsy moth, a tree defoliator that has been fought back in some locations, could become widely established.

BILL MCAULIFFE

SCHOOLS

Joe Nathan, director of Macalester College's Center for School Change, sees economics and choice as big factors in molding schools over the next decade. More college options for high school students could reduce the time spent in college, and stem the costs of higher education. Schools will probably loosen strict grade-level definitions. "There's nothing magic that says someone needs to be 17, or 18, or 19 before going on to higher education," Nathan said. "Also, the whole idea of 12 years of education is quite arbitrary." What's more, Nathan said, schools will start sharing space with social service agencies, senior citizen housing and other organizations as educating children blends more with community services. "You can walk into a grocery store and not only buy food, but also take money out of your bank account," Nathan said. "Schools are going to become more convenient for families."

NORMAN DRAPER

FAMILY LIVING

"Family togetherness" will be truer than ever in the next decade, predicts Paul Rosenblatt, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota.

More communal living: Multi-generational households are springing up, with grandparents moving in to help financially and practically, and college kids moving home when they can't find work. But a new bead is unrelated people moving in together to make ends meet, such as co-workers or former high school friends buying or renting a home and sharing payments.

More work from home: With more independent contractors and fewer commuters, Mom and Dad might do a grown-up version of parallel play with back-to-back laptops in the living room. Expect couples to piece together two or three jobs, with workweeks bleeding into weekends and evenings. Also expect:

Fewer babies: The U.S. is seeing a drop in the birth rate. "Babies will seem really expensive," Rosenblatt said. Even with fewer babies, expect separate bedrooms for an aging population of snorers or those with declining sexual urges.

If you don't like the sound of that, here's good news: Rosenblatt notes a spike in the number of Twin Cities marriage and family therapists.

GAIL ROSENBLUM

SPENDING

Minnesotans’ wallets remain in a deep freeze, with a slow thaw expected.

Unemployment is the state’s most pressing concern now, but the hit to home values and retirement plans means consumers will keep a cold hand on hard-earned cash for years to come.

Five years from today, consumer spending in Minnesota will remain far below rebounds of previous recessions in the early 1980s, 1990s or in 2001, state economist Tom Stinson predicts.

Part of the reason is that the current downturn has been longer and deeper than in the past. But there’s a more sustaining reason: We’re getting older.

In the 1980-82 recession, about 47 percent of households were headed by someone 20 to 40 years old. Now, only 37 percent are in that age bracket.

So for a greater percentage of Minnesotans, those “big spending” years are over. They’ve bought homes, filled them with furniture, fed and clothed children, and sent their work clothes to the thrift-store.

With consumer spending driving nearly three-quarters of the economy, retailers will feel the pain.

“Other things being equal,” said Stinson, “we’re going to see weaker natural spending growth no matter what the economic conditions are.”

JACKIE CROSBY

JACKIE CROSBY

HEALTH CARE

Remember what health care was like in the old days? The family doctor and a steadfast nurse kept track of your shots, reminded Dad to watch his blood pressure, and told Mom whether her sore back required surgery or just an ice pack.

That quaint but effective style of medicine is making a comeback under the label "medical home'' or "health care home.''

Research shows that patients are healthier and medical costs lower when people get coordinated, preventive care from a clinic that monitors all their medical needs -- as opposed to fragmented and crisis-based care. In an increasingly high-pressure medical world, clinics say they stopped coordinating care because they weren't paid to. Now they will be.

The 2008 Legislature created incentives to reward Minnesota doctors and clinics that adopt the new model. Qualifying providers will be designated starting this spring.

"It's not so much a place as a philosophy,'' says Carol Backstrom, a top aide to Minnesota Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan. "If we can deliver the right care at the right time in the right place, we will have more effective, more efficient health care.''

DAVE HAGE

TRAVEL

New ways to travel by rail and air are on the runway now, and takeoff is expected before the end of the decade.

Travelers should be able to choose between as many as eight daily high-speed trains between Minneapolis and Chicago, with stops in Madison and Milwaukee, within the next decade, according to David Christianson, project manager for the state rail plan at MnDOT.

Fliers can expect a quieter ride, with larger windows and better air quality, when Boeing's 787 Dreamliner starts taking to the skies within the next few years. According to local airline expert Terry Trippler, who runs www.rulestoknow.com, the aircraft is made of composite materials. That revolution allows the cabin to be pressurized at lower altitudes, meaning more humidity in the air and windows four times larger than those in traditional aircraft. "And there will be no shades; touch the windows and they darken," Trippler said.

Kerri Westenberg

DINING

"Value, value, value, followed by comfort, comfort, comfort."

That's the 2010 restaurant forecast from Phil Roberts, the brainiac of Parasole Restaurant Holdings, the Edina-based juggernaut behind Manny's Steakhouse, Chino Latino, Good Earth, Salut Bar Américain and several other popular Twin Cities eateries.

"It's going to be about coziness, security, warm-fuzziness," said Roberts with a laugh. "People are not in the mood to be aggressively challenged by weird flavor profiles, or feel that they have to live up to a culinary experience. They want to cocoon."

As for revenue growth in the coming year, don't expect much. "I see a slight uptick, industry-wide," Robert said. "Flat is the new up."

RICK NELSON

TECHNOLOGY

The future of personal technology is in e-book readers. Yes, we've been hearing that for at least two years, but St. Paul futurist Joel Barker says only one thing has been holding back digital reading devices: color.

"When that hits, e-readers are going to move as fast as cell phones did once they went digital. Not only do color e-readers have a chance, but a chance to dominate," said the author of the bestselling "Paradigms."

But Barker largely sees refinements in personal technology over the next decade, not innovation. For example, smart phones, which are not comfortable to hold now, should become more ergonomic. But adding, say, 3-D displays to personal devices doesn't make sense, he said.

And that fabled Dick Tracy watch that does everything?

"I don't see anyone talking to their wrist," Barker said. "It's hard on your arm, for starters."

RANDY A. SALAS

ENTERTAINMENT

Minnesota's Nancy Robinson tracks pop culture and entertainment trends for Iconoculture, a company that specializes in finding out what consumers will be hungry for in the future. Robinson sees this in her crystal ball:

1) 3-D thrives -- for a while. "It's Smell-O-Vision all over again. Like in the '50s, it's the idea of bringing people back to the theater for an experience.''

2) Music becomes even more segregated. "We're going to see the continued mainstreaming of niche in music listening, where it just takes a small group of people to keep an artist viable."

3) Jon and Kate won't do great. "I think people like the White House crashers and Balloon Boy will be roadkill. The idea of being famous just for being famous is fading very quickly."

NEAL JUSTIN

OUTDOORS

Nationally, the number of hunters and anglers has been decreasing -- and Minnesota hasn't been immune from that decline as the state becomes more urban and youths are enticed by YouTube, iPods and organized sports.

But Tim Kelly believes that Minnesota, over the next decade, will buck that trend.

"Our hunter and angler numbers have been pretty stable over the last two decades, and I would expect that trend to continue for the next 10 years,'' said Kelly, a research analyst with the Department of Natural Resources.

One factor keeping Minnesota's numbers steady: Baby boomers are continuing to hunt and fish at a later age than their parents, Kelly said. "People today are healthier and in better condition,'' Kelly said.

DOUG SMITH

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