There’s no need to panic over a new set of forecasts predicting far less growth in Scott County cities than many are expecting.
That is the message from the Metropolitan Council, which issued the forecasts earlier this fall.
The predictions matter because they can become self-fulfilling prophecies: the basis for lots of decisions on future spending on roads and much more.
“I want to stress that these local forecasts are preliminary and will be revised based on comments from cities,” research analyst Dennis Farmer assured a group of county and city staffers and elected officials in Prior Lake earlier this month. “They are already being modified. … A lot of developing suburbs” — not just those in Scott — “think they are too low.”
Despite the assurances, a procession of local officials stood up and objected to them.
“It seems as though your assumptions are based on what has recently occurred rather than the overall trend over 15 or 20 years,” said Savage City Administrator Barry Stock. “The economy is improving, land values are rapidly increasing — though not to the craziness we saw six or seven years ago — but they are going up.”
Under the older forecasts, Savage would rise from its 2012 figure of 27,552 to 39,200 by 2030. The new preliminary forecast doesn’t assign a value for 2030 but ratchets expectations back to 34,400 by 2040.
Similar changes in projections occurred in lots of outer-ring suburban areas.
The forecasts, Met Council officials said, were never anything more than an opening shot that would lead to a period of give and take in which they moved from a computer model to sounder predictions based on local knowledge of on-the-ground realities and expectations.
Said Met Council forecaster Todd Graham: “In all humility, a forecast model is an analytic construct, and we can modify it.”
Most likely, growth will end up being redistributed as local officials react to the numbers, he said, and “differences in population will show up a little further out, in the third ring or even [a rural outpost such as] Elko New Market. … There will be substantial differences in the next version of the forecast.”
Why they matter
The forecasts are drawing keen interest because they’re far from just casual guesses or an academic exercise. The council carries a lot of weight in approving things like new transit lines and bridges that are needed to support growing populations.
Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke thanked council officials for “coming out and engaging with us on these numbers,” adding:
“When I first saw them, I didn’t realize this was just the first part of a process. I thought it was what would be.
“We need to make sure we get it right. We know that around [County Road] 83 and [Hwy.] 169, 5,000 jobs are coming in the next five years. That will significantly impact the entire region’s growth.”
The timeline, council officials explained, is this:
• Local governments are asked to comment officially by Dec. 1.
• The council will process those and get back to cities by January. Further give and take will ensue.
• By April the council’s members, appointed by the governor, are to approve a new set of forecasts that set the stage for planning.
“These are preliminary forecasts that are not being used for planning purposes but just for discussions with cities,” Farmer said.