Strength in Minneapolis drives resurgent economy

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 21, 2014 - 10:45 AM

The surging market for professional workers in Minneapolis is a key reason the Twin Cities enjoys the lowest unemployment rate of any large metropolitan area in the country.

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Antoinette Smith, computer software: "Some weeks, I get one recruiter call every single day."

Photo: Glenn Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Antoinette Smith had just arrived in the Twin Cities when a guy in a truck noticed her Illinois license plates at an intersection. “You from ­Chicago?” he called out. Turned out they both were.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here, isn’t there?” the man said, driving off.

Smith, 34, who came to Minnesota in 2011 for a sales job at a software firm, has found that to be true. Last fall she took a job with Code42, a fast-growing company in Minneapolis where she is learning to write software.

“Some weeks, I get one recruiter call every single day,” said Smith, who lives in St. Paul.

The surging market for professional workers in Minneapolis is a key reason the Twin Cities enjoys the lowest unemployment rate of any large metropolitan area in the country. Employers in the city have added 25,000 positions since 2009, twice as many as the five other largest cities in the metro combined. About a third of these new jobs are in higher-paying fields such as management, recruiting, advertising, real estate, consulting, public relations, engineering and software development.

The vitality marks a dramatic comeback for the state’s traditional commercial capital, which steadily lost jobs through the first decade of the millennium while heavyweight companies like General Mills, Medtronic and UnitedHealth were hiring in the suburbs.

As the business nerve center of a part of the country that’s expanding, downtown Minneapolis is drawing strength from the oil boom in North Dakota and the sustained farm boom across the corn and soybean states, said John Spry, an economist at the University of St. Thomas.

“Today, America’s region of low unemployment is the Plains,” Spry said. “It’s a great position to be in, to be the regional hub for the area of the country that’s doing the best.”

The re-energized Minneapolis professional sector has helped counteract four years of stagnation in St. Paul’s job market, and it is fueling a wave of construction that goes far beyond the new Vikings stadium and office complex rising on the east side of downtown. Big new condominium and apartment buildings are going up downtown and in Loring Park, and are marching along the west end of the Midtown Greenway.

The strong job market is the logic behind new stores and restaurants. A new Whole Foods is open for business on Hennepin Avenue. A high-end watchmaker from Detroit just opened a shop on Washington Avenue. A Minnesotan returned from New York City to start a restaurant in the thriving North Loop neighborhood.

The job search is not easy for everyone. Long-term unemployment remains high by historical standards, as does the number of people working part-time because they can’t find a good full-time job. Wages in Minnesota and the nation are stagnant.

But thanks to bursts of job creation in Minneapolis, and Eagan, Maple Grove, Blaine and Woodbury, unemployment in the Twin Cities has fallen to 4 percent, the lowest level of any metropolitan area in the nation where more than 1 million people live.

Job growth in Minneapolis and the rest of the Twin Cities “feed off of each other,” said Toby Madden, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

“Growth in the inner city can spur growth in the surrounding communities, and that growth in the surrounding communities can spur growth in the inner city, which is a virtuous cycle,” he said.

On the neighborhood level

Nowhere is the strength of the Twin Cities economy more apparent than in the North Loop, the Warehouse District between Target Field and the Mississippi River. Washington Avenue and the streets around it are patrolled by leashed French bulldogs and dotted with boutiques and restaurants that cater to professionals and empty-nesters.

Scott Wenner, who lives in St. Paul but has worked as an animator in the North Loop for 11 years, said the neighborhood is full of creative jobs and professionals who work downtown and to the west. He was eating pizza outside Black Sheep, under an umbrella spinning in the breeze.

“These people are responsible for this place,” he said, gesturing to the restaurant. “It’s definitely been a huge change.”

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  • Lee Jones, Advertising: "I was coming from London where I had friends who were struggling to keep their jobs."

  • Anthony Rodari, recruiting: "We have been looking more on other ends of the country to try to relocate talent to Minneapolis."

  • Ann Yin, North Loop deli and grocery owner,: "It sat kind of still for a bit. Then it’s like, wow, people are moving in. Wow, the development’s started again. Now it’s just an explosion."

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