The Twin Cities metro is growing slower than other major U.S. cities, particularly areas like Denver and Seattle, new U.S. Census population estimates show.
The metro area has grown about 6 percent since 2010 — adding 200,000 new people — placing it 17th for growth among the country’s 25 largest cities. Denver, by comparison, grew twice as fast.
The Twin Cities remains the 16th largest metro area in the country with 3.5 million people, however, and its growth is outpacing the average across all U.S. cities.
But there are weaknesses. About as many people leave the Twin Cities as arrive from elsewhere in the country, bucking trends that have helped drive big gains in the country’s fastest-growing cities. And that means growth in the Twin Cities is primarily driven by births outpacing deaths, as well as some international immigration.
“It may be slower, but it’s steady,” said Michael Langley of Greater MSP, the region’s economic development agency. “And population growth up until now has not restricted companies’ ability to grow their businesses here.”
Last year’s growth was on par with previous years, and actually ranked slightly better among the largest metros. Under federal definitions, the Twin Cities metro area is a 16-county area stretching as far as Mille Lacs and western Wisconsin.
Among the country’s 25 largest metro areas, three of the fastest-growing in the last six years are in Texas: Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. Others topping the list include Orlando, Denver and Charlotte. Another notable standout is Austin, Texas, which Greater MSP considers a peer even though it falls outside the top 25 largest metros. Austin has boomed since 2010, growing by a whopping 20 percent.
Still, the Twin Cities outpaced the growth of larger, more established areas like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. It also beat Chicago, which has barely grown since 2010 and actually lost population last year.
Langley pointed to measures beyond population that his group uses to gauge the health of the region.
The metro area’s gross domestic product is rising at a healthy pace, he said, and ranks higher than our population relative to other metro areas. Modest population growth has also meant there are lots of jobs available, though Langley said they expect to have 114,000 more jobs than people to fill them by 2020.
“That’s our call to action,” said Langley, whose organization has been working to attract and retain talent in the Twin Cities. In particular, he said, the area could use more chemical engineers, accountants and people working in construction trades.
And Greater MSP pays special attention to growth in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds rather than the population in general, because of their long-term effect on the labor force.
The Twin Cities has had net gains among that group of young adults for the three years Greater MSP has been tracking it, the group said, but ranked 8th among the 12 cities in its peer group. Portland pulled in 9,200 in 2015, for example, compared to 1,800 in the Twin Cities.
Greater MSP chooses peer cities based on population, economic activity and competition with the Twin Cities for workers and business.
Tom Clark, a Minnesota native who retired Friday as CEO of Denver’s regional economic development agency, attributes much of their success to a regional effort to coordinate job growth and massive investments in infrastructure — many new rail lines, an airport built in the 1990s and a massive life sciences research campus.
Clark recalls meeting with people from Silicon Valley, who hadn’t planned enough infrastructure to handle their growth. He said their advice was, “Dream your dream. Build your infrastructure 50 to 100 years ahead.”
Greater MSP says just over 50,000 people move to the Twin Cities from another state every year.
Josh Naylor, an Alabama native, moved to the North Loop with his wife in 2015 from West Virginia. A chemical engineer by training, he works in sales for DuPont and was given the option to move to suburban Chicago or Minneapolis.
Naylor said he had few preconceived notions about Minneapolis before arriving, but was taken by the city after grabbing a bite at Smack Shack and walking down Washington Avenue. His wife works as a chemical engineer in Maple Grove.
“We just fell in love with the city,” Naylor, 28, said of Minneapolis. “My wife is kind of a white picket fence type of girl. And I’m a New York City type of person. So it’s right in the middle.”
He also appreciates the proximity to nature, and sees an upside to winter weather — it’s a reprieve from southern heat.
“I love the snow. I love winter,” Naylor said.
Yet Chris Iverson, 24, and his girlfriend just left the Twin Cities in search of a new adventure, preferably near mountains. Iverson, a University of Minnesota graduate, left his job as a transportation engineer in St. Louis Park for a similar job in the Seattle area, where voters recently approved raising money for a massive expansion of the light rail network. His girlfriend works for a sustainable building design firm.
But there are trade-offs in a move to a booming city. The couple owned a condominium near downtown Minneapolis, which they sold before leaving.
“There’s really no way that we’d be able to buy anything now in Seattle,” Iverson said. “The barriers to entry are just too high.”