Gov. Tim Walz has rightly made boosting the economic prospects of rural Minnesota a key part of his One Minnesota agenda.
Major investment in rural broadband, which is high on the governor’s agenda, is certainly one way to provide new economic opportunity in non-metro parts of the state. His plan to boost local government aid and education funding will also yield benefits for rural Minnesota.
But here’s one more thing that should be on the governor’s agenda: Spreading more of the state workforce outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The state of Minnesota is an enormous employer, with a permanent workforce that averages about 35,000 people. Right now, about 21,000 of those employees, or about 61 percent, work in the seven-county metro area. That leaves just over 13,000 jobs spread out across the rest of Minnesota, about a quarter of those with the Department of Natural Resources.
These are good jobs, that pay a very livable wage and come with a strong benefits package. In other words, they are the kinds of jobs that are desperately needed in rural Minnesota. These are the kinds of jobs that would provide a significant and stable economic boost to communities all across the state, including here in northeastern Minnesota.
Clearly, many state jobs will always remain in the Twin Cities, since many state workers directly serve metro area residents. But there are many state jobs that are located in the Twin Cities today mostly because that’s just the way things were done in the past. Yet there are thousands of state workers who don’t necessarily work directly with the public. There are accountants, planners, IT workers, managers and supervisors, media specialists, attorneys, and dozens of other positions that could well be accomplished anywhere in the state with a decent Internet connection.
Relocating state jobs like this would provide many advantages for the state and its workforce.
Home prices are often significantly lower outside the metro, meaning state workers would likely spend less on housing.
Many state workers would likely want to relocate to smaller, safer, and less-congested communities if given the opportunity.
Renting or buying commercial office space to house state workers in small towns around Minnesota could well be significantly cheaper, saving state dollars.
The rural workforce is typically extremely reliable and hard-working. The Revenue Center in Ely is an excellent example.
The creation of several dozen state jobs in a small community would have an enormous impact on the local economy, improving local tax bases, boosting traffic to local businesses and creating demand for additional housing in some cases. Rural parts of the state need these jobs. The metro area has jobs in abundance. Its economy wouldn’t even notice the change.
There are many other advantages, but perhaps one of the most significant is that it would substantially benefit rural parts of Minnesota at virtually no cost. This wouldn’t involve creating new state jobs, simply relocating some of the existing ones, possibly to less costly accommodations. This could actually save the state money.
How many jobs are we talking about? That’s a question that would require some research to accurately answer. Gov. Walz could propose a study of the state workforce which could offer recommendations on which government jobs could most effectively be relocated outside the metro area.
If, let’s say, such a study found that 20 percent of state jobs currently located in the Twin Cities metro area could be effectively relocated to non-metro parts of the state. That’s 4,200 stable, good-paying jobs with attractive benefits. Target those jobs to parts of the state, like the Iron Range, that have typically struggled economically, and you have the makings of an economic policy that would have a real and long-term impact.
We appreciate Gov. Walz’s stated commitment to rural Minnesota. Bringing more state jobs to rural Minnesota is a great way to walk that talk.