Tom Goodmanson grew up in the Twin Cities suburbs. Like many natives, he moved somewhere warmer soon after college.
But he eventually found himself on another well-worn path: moving back to Minnesota later in life, when the key drivers for choosing place to live included not just economic opportunity but the quality of the local public schools and proximity to loved ones.
“My wife and I were both from here, so coming back to friends and family is certainly always a draw,” said Goodmanson, who today is president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Calabrio Inc., which makes software to optimize company call centers. “Of all the people I know who moved to the [Silicon] Valley, they have almost all moved back.”
It’s little mystery why. With its solid economy, rich recreational options, enviable health profile and high educational attainment levels, the Twin Cities rarely misses a chance to be featured in the annual “best cities” lists.
In August, for example, the technology jobs site Dice.com ranked Minnesota the “fastest-growing state for tech jobs in 2015.” In September, Minneapolis landed on Business.com’s list of “10 Best U.S. Cities to Get a Job In.” (Although Minneapolis finished behind Austin, Texas, and Madison, Wis., it did beat out the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu and Oklahoma City.)
In October, NerdWallet.com ranked the Twin Cities metro area eighth on its list of best places for women to start a business.
In a survey by WorkplaceDynamics, the research firm that partners with the Star Tribune to compile the Top Workplaces list, Minnesota ranked first among 45 regions surveyed on workplace satisfaction. The survey focused on components of well-being, like relationships, positive feelings and a sense of meaning.
Minnesota employees rated their companies above the national averages in a range of factors. For example, Minnesotans were 2 to 4 percent more likely to agree with statements such as “There is not a lot of negativity at my workplace” and “I feel genuinely appreciated at this company” and “This company operates by strong values and ethics.”
The 16-county metro area that includes Minnesota’s Twin Cities and two counties in western Wisconsin is home to 3.35 million people, including 400,000 in Minneapolis. In the smaller seven-county metro area that is used for many employment statistics, there were 50,880 job vacancies to start the summer, and about 56,000 unemployed individuals.
“The fact that we are pretty close to parity between the number of people looking for work and the number of people out there suggests it’s a good market — at a very high level of aggregation, of course,” said Steve Hine, director of labor market information at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Unemployment in the state as a whole has consistently tracked at least a point or two below the national average for every month of the past decade, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The 3.7 percent unemployment rate announced in October 2015 was half a percentage point lower than the joblessness rate before the recession of 2007.
And the money is there for many job-seekers. Private-sector wages in Minnesota beat the national average by about 6.5 percent each month for the past decade. Although that gap narrowed to about 4 percent in 2015, state data show, the price that Minnesotans in the 16-county metro paid for food, clothing, shelter and medical care was five points lower than the average cost-of-living index for U.S. cities.
Much of that performance is due to the local economy. “What people don’t realize is we have the best of both worlds, when you think about innovative tech companies and established Fortune 500 companies. That is a unique value proposition,” said Chad Halvorson, founder and chief executive of When I Work, a mobile-ready employee scheduling solutions provider.
Minnesota was the corporate home to 17 Fortune 500 companies in 2015, including Target, 3M, Best Buy, General Mills and St. Jude Medical. Yet the state is rich in up-and-coming innovators like St. Paul’s When I Work, which grew from 30 to almost 100 employees last year. One large industry, medical devices, includes more than 400 companies in the state.
That means younger workers can seek out dynamic smaller companies for quick growth or larger organizations with names that look great on a résumé. Seasoned workers who are bored with their office views can find new horizons in the hundreds of disruptive technology and health care start-ups that dot the state, thanks to a long history of venture-capital backing. “It’s a place where people … can start up or settle down,” Halvorson said.
Mike Carey, who became a human relations executive last year at fast-growing supply-chain services firm SPS Commerce in Minneapolis — ranked No. 1 on the 2015 Top Workplaces list of large companies — said economic diversity is critical for another reason; spouses can also get jobs in the market.
“We’ve always been able to have two good jobs here and live relatively affordably,” Carey said of his wife and himself. “The two jobs provide a nice lifestyle here that we would not be able to duplicate on either coast. … So when January or February come along, we can travel.”
Minnesota weather is the top hurdle cited by recruiters trying to bring people to the state.
Greater MSP uses summertime images of beach volleyball players on Lake Calhoun and racks of shiny urban rental bikes to promote the region’s recreational assets, but even the pre-eminent economic development group understands the need to confront people’s ideas about Minnesota winters (see “Selling Minnesota,” page 6).
“If one more person says, ‘It’s so cold there ALL the time,’ we’re going to freak out,” Greater MSP says on its website. “Bottom line is that MSP is a region of people who make the most of every season.”
Recruiters, meanwhile, are quick to note the snowfall total in Boston last winter (110 inches), the hottest temperature in Phoenix last summer (117 degrees), and Florida’s consistently high summer dew points (yikes).
“I’ve been in south Florida in the middle of August, and everyone complains about how hot and muggy it is,” said Tim Frischmon, a longtime executive recruiter with the Furst Group. “I’m being a little flip, but the point is, there is likely weather challenges no matter where someone lives.”