The future is quickly coming into view across Minnesota, from cranes remaking the Twin Cities’ skylines, to tough decisions over a new type of mining, to changes in the ways we commute, learn and even what we wear.
Twin Cities experts looked ahead and saw technology becoming even more intertwined with our daily lives, whether at work, school or at Vikings games. They also see light-rail and bus commuting becoming more popular, even as gasoline becomes cheaper. The commuting boom will feed a continuing shift of residents back to the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Meanwhile, one of 2014’s big surprises could mean some Minnesotans will add Cuba to their travel plans. Closer to home, an entertainment juggernaut is taking shape, with “Star Wars VII” in the vanguard of an onslaught of major movies and video games.
President Obama’s sweeping immigration changes will roll out, including temporary permission to stay and work for more than 4 million parents in the country illegally. The changes will affect about 30,000 immigrants in Minnesota. But will congressional Republicans make good on pledges to block at least parts of the executive order? Will the government handle a flood of deportation reprieve applications without worsening legal immigration backlogs and overlooking fraud? And, said Ryan Allen, an immigration expert at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School, “Will this executive action take some of the pressure off immigration reform in Congress — or get the ball rolling?”
In Minnesota, the order has energized advocates to push during the upcoming legislative session for a bill granting driver’s licenses to those living in the state illegally. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce gave Obama’s action a nod, even amid some concerns that the government might move to penalize businesses that unwittingly hired workers without legal status. - Mila Koumpilova
Minnesota’s first proposed copper and nickel mine will finally reach a critical milestone this spring when the state completes its final environmental impact statement.
And then the fight over one of the most controversial environmental projects ever proposed in Minnesota will really get going. Next up: How much money will PolyMet Mining Corp. have to put up to protect taxpayers against future risks from environmental calamities and water pollution? Neither the company nor officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will say how much that’s likely to be. But the state’s preliminary environmental review predicted it will cost $200 million to close the mine once the minerals are depleted, and $3.5 million to $6 million annually to treat the water — perhaps for hundreds of years. Environmental groups have put the number at $400 million. - Josephine Marcotty
Computer coding in school
While iPads and Chromebooks have been all the rage, schools will shift their attention from using the devices for learning to learning how the devices work.
Watch for more schools to invest in computer coding in big ways. Several school districts already offer students the opportunity to learn coding. In 2015, more may begin requiring the skill.
Along those same lines, expect more “coder dojos” to pop up throughout Minnesota. These are events where students can learn to write code to develop websites, design apps, and play games. CoderDojo Twin Cities at the University of Minnesota is one of the largest events of its kind in the nation and can sell out in a matter of minutes.
There is likely to be a continued push to get the state to recognize computer science as a graduation requirement instead of as an elective. - Kim McGuire
Buenos Dias, cubanos
“Cuba is a big, big deal” for travel in 2015, according to Steve Loucks, spokesman for Plymouth-based Travel Leaders Group. Despite the normalizing of relations, travel there remains restricted. Most U.S. citizens must be on people-to-people exchanges offered by companies licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department. “If you have visions of spending time on the beach, this is not the trip for you,” Loucks said. After being virtually off-limits to U.S. travelers for more than 50 years, Loucks said, “there will be demand for people to have the bragging rights of being the first to go to Cuba. People want to get there before it changes, because it really is stepping back in time.” Direct air service is still not allowed, but Loucks believes “further opening up to regular travel is inevitable.” - Kerri Westenberg
Technology isn’t just about the computer or smartphone anymore.
In 2015, there’s a good chance it will be on your wrist and in household objects, as wearable technology and the so-called “Internet of Things” gain more traction. Smartwatches, fitness trackers and Internet-connected devices like thermostats are multiplying and getting more sophisticated.
Wearable fitness trackers could sense when you’re sleeping and signal the thermostat to lower the temperature. Devices that started out as high-tech pedometers are tracking heart rates, sleep patterns, eating habits and workout intensity.
Then there are the smartwatches. The highly anticipated Apple Watch is expected to debut in 2015. Android Wear watches introduced in 2014 have already piqued consumers’ curiosity, shifting designs from techie-obvious to more classic watch styles.
“I can wear it every day and I don’t feel like I’m from the future,” said Best Buy’s Blake Hampton of his Moto 360 smartwatch. - Katie Humphrey
Legal pot arrives
Medical marijuana will be legal in Minnesota this year. But probably not for you.
Starting in July, a limited number of patients can buy the drug from a limited number of dispensaries to treat a limited number of grave medical conditions.
It should surprise no one that Minnesota — where you can’t buy a bottle of wine on Sunday — isn’t about to turn into a Colorado-style cannabis free-for-all. But patients battling cancer, seizure disorders, glaucoma, AIDS, multiple sclerosis or terminal illnesses will have the option of taking marijuana, in pill or liquid form.
The Health Department chose two manufacturers to grow and refine the state’s entire stash of medicinal pot, which will be sold at clinics in just eight of the state’s 87 counties. Minnesotans are waiting to find out how much the dispensaries will charge for the drug and whether the state will increase the number of dispensaries or expand the program to people with other conditions, such as intractable pain or post-traumatic stress. - Jennifer Brooks
Keeping bees buzzing
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is expected to weigh in on the controversial class of insecticides tied to the decline of honeybees around the world. Under pressure from Minnesota legislators and many in the bee-loving public, the agency is considering for the first time whether to ban or restrict the use of neonicotinoids in Minnesota.
They are the most widely used pesticides in the world, and treat 90 percent of corn and 60 percent to 65 percent of soybean seeds. Studies have found that they can damage the navigation and reproduction abilities of honeybees and bumblebees, even at low concentrations. Honeybees pollinate more than $15 billion worth of U.S. crops. - Josephine Marcotty
Games go high-tech
High-definition television has transformed sports by making games look more vivid and real. But that has hurt teams at the ticket office and forced them to rethink fan engagement. The answer to both challenges: better technology.
The San Francisco 49ers set the template for other NFL teams by creating a stadium mobile app that guides game-goers through the stadium, allows them to order food and drink, and offers high-def video replays to fans in their seats.
The Vikings are developing an app that fans could use from home to the new stadium and back.
“Our biggest challenge is, how do we make it a compelling three or four hours?” said John Penhollow, the team’s director of new stadium partnerships. The app will alert fans to parking availability around the stadium. It will direct them to their seats and provide wait times for concession stands or restrooms. In some areas of the stadium, fans will be able to order food and beverages for delivery to their seats. And it will show game replays and game-day fantasy contests. - Chip Scoggins
A brief lull in downtown apartment building next year will give the market time to absorb about 2,000 units that opened in 2014.
The success of both downtowns — particularly St. Paul — will be tied heavily to whether more jobs move to the urban core, said Mary Bujold with Maxfield Research.
Minneapolis’ housing demand is less tied to job growth because of reverse commuters and retirees living downtown, she said. But “if we want new companies to come downtown, where are we going to put them?”
Bujold said about 2,000 units came online in downtown Minneapolis in 2014. Less than half of that will open in 2015, as projects like 4Marq remain under construction. The largest project planned is the 320-unit Latitude 45 project on Washington Avenue S.
Steve Cramer, president of the Downtown Council, said fundraising and design work will pick up for the Downtown East park adjacent to the new Vikings stadium. “We’ll move past the pretty pictures stage and take some concrete steps to what it’s really going to be,” he said. - Eric Roper
More idle cars
With new bike lanes, rapid busways and expanding light-rail lines, commuters in the Twin Cities have more options than ever.
Transit officials predict growing popularity of the Green Line, which connects downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. In November, on average, 33,222 people rode the light rail line every day — 10,820 more than the Metropolitan Council had anticipated.
The number of trips and miles people travel in their vehicles has dropped steadily over the past decade, said Met Council planning analyst Jonathan Ehrlich. He anticipates that trend will continue as cycling, walking and other modes of transportation become more popular.
But low gas prices could mean slightly more road congestion, said David Levinson, a University of Minnesota professor who studies transportation.
Gas expenditures in 2015 are expected to be the lowest they have been in more than a decade, with the average household spending $550 less than in 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“Under $2 a gallon again is pretty significant. That could increase the amount of travel people are willing to do,” Levinson said. - Jessie Van Berkel
Brace for ‘Star Wars’
“Star Wars VII” won’t be released until next December, but that won’t stop the Force from being a heavy presence all year.
“We’re going to get hit over the head by it unlike anything ever before,” said Andy Reiner, executive editor of Game Informer, a video-game magazine based in Minneapolis.
Reiner believes Han Solo and company won’t be the only ones steering a blockbuster. New installments of “The Avengers,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Terminator” and “The Hunger Games” are also on the horizon.
There will also be familiar faces in the gaming world with new editions of “Halo,” “Tomb Raider,” “Uncharted,” “Batman” and “Mortal Kombat.”
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Reiner said. - Neal Justin
The youth sports boom and the aging of active baby boomers will continue to fuel growth in 2015 in the Twin Cities’ orthopedic industry.
Twin Cities Orthopedics will open clinics in Maple Grove, Plymouth and Eden Prairie. The latter will be a sports medicine facility with a range of services from golf swing analysis to strength conditioning to improve sports performance and reduce injury risk.
The clinics add to a crowded field of orthopedic and sports medicine providers that includes TRIA and Mayo Clinic, which made a splash in the Twin Cities last year with a sports medicine facility across from Target Center that will serve the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Orthology has now opened four clinics and is promoting a “get better, faster” approach with testimonials from athletes such as Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. - Jeremy Olson