Nicole Griensewic Mickelson Executive DirectorThroughout my five years as the Executive Director of Region Nine Development Commission, a question has constantly been asked, “Who speaks for rural MN?”. There is not a single entity capable of doing that; however, each region does need to ensure the overall message of its economic development is accurate. For instance, the assumption we often hear is that our region’s college students migrate to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. This is not completely accurate. While some of the data shows that we do lose some of our college students after they graduate, these numbers alone do not paint the full picture. Our region in south central Minnesota is actually quite competitive compared to other metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in Minnesota. This narrative is too often not shared.

When a college student is assessing where to find work after graduation, there are several factors that come in to play. Factors such as wage, amenities and cost of living. Looking at wage, Mankato/North Mankato MSA (Blue Earth and Nicollet counties) has 52 occupations which have higher wages than the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Those 52 occupations equate to an estimated 6,650 jobs in the MSA alone.  The cost of living in our region is also much lower than compared to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. For example, a Mankato resident would have to pay nearly $80,000 more to live in a $250,000 home in Minneapolis-St. Paul, as well as pay 15-16 percent higher utilities and transportation costs.

While our region is competitive, we are not immune to retention challenges and workforce shortages. Economic developers, employers and organizations like Region Nine need to ensure we are promoting the area’s high-paying occupations and low cost of living in order to show new college graduates that this is a place they can grow their careers.

Brent Pearson, Resource Development Planner for Region Nine, has taken a deeper dive into the data behind where the Mankato/North Mankato area compares to Minneapolis-St. Paul area and where our college students are going or staying.