Mankato will keep its status as a metropolitan statistical area (MSA), as the Biden administration has reversed a plan to downgrade Mankato and 143 other U.S. cities to "micropolitan" areas. The Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., area also stood to lose its MSA status under the proposal.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., led resistance to the plan, rounding up 21 other senators to express concerns about the damage it could cause to cities that often are the largest communities in rural areas.

"I look at it this way: A town like Mankato is a regional metropolitan hub," Klobuchar said in an interview. "For that region, it's really important to have a town that isn't downgraded."

"It was more meaningful than just 144 towns," she added. "It was about regional economies."

Klobuchar noted that many federal programs use the MSA designation as a baseline to determine funding. Cities that are downgraded could lose access to federal money for transportation, health care and other social services.

The new plan would have required an urban core of at least 100,000 residents to qualify as an MSA, rather than the existing benchmark of 50,000 residents.

The Mankato and North Mankato area, with a core population of about 61,000, would have fallen into a tier of smaller Minnesota cities including Brainerd, Red Wing, Fergus Falls, Fairmont and a dozen others.

Other cities in the Upper Midwest that stood to lose MSA status included Bismarck, N.D.; Rapid City, S.D., and Ames, Iowa.

"It's excellent news, not just for Mankato, but for similar cities all over," said Paul Vogel, Mankato's director of community development. "It will preserve our status as a metropolitan area and will continue our access to those federal funds that make a positive difference in our community and our region."

Vogel noted that many companies use MSA databases in deciding where to locate or expand facilities. The loss of MSA status could result in Mankato being left out of consideration, even though the region has seen stronger growth in the past decade than many larger areas.

As technology and the COVID-19 pandemic have made remote work more attractive, it's important not to discourage people from settling in rural areas, many of which have seen declining populations, Klobuchar said.

"We actually want to encourage people to locate and stay in rural areas of our state and country," she said. "It's less expensive and it's good for developing new ideas.

"You don't want to stop that."

John Reinan • 612-673-7402