Leaving Minnesota? Where will new grads find jobs?

MinnEcon readers know we’ve worried a lot about Minnesota’s ability to keep its young talent in state. It’s been one of the regular themes in our “Leaving Minnesota?” series.


I started to think I might be overstating the case. Then I heard Dorisa Nelson’s story.

Nelson, 23, recently graduated from North Dakota State. She has a master’s degree in architecture and a bachelor’s in anthropology and environmental design and hopes to become a licensed Minnesota architect.

But the recession has crippled opportunities in architecture and engineering.

Nelson, part of MPR’s Public Insight Network, is working now at a seasonal retail job that will end soon. She sees her current professional prospects as bleak.

I’m highlighting her story because it captures succinctly the struggles of a lot of young adults and new college graduates. We’ve all been conditioned to believe that Minnesota will always be able to keep and draw talent. But the recession is exposing that conceit. Here’s Nelson:

As far as my friends who have graduated with architecture degrees, I know a couple people, literally two, who were able to get jobs out of state. The rest of us are still looking, or have stopped looking and are doing something else until the end of this comes.

I sent my resume to over 50 firms, the ones that replied said thank you, but we are not hiring at this time and we will keep your resume on file should their needs change. There was only one company that offered an interview, but it was an informational interview just about the firm- they weren’t hiring.

I was fortunate to get a call from one firm in the city and they said I could do a job shadow type thing, which I am really enjoying, but because they can’t pay me, I am still trying to get as many hours as I can in my retail job before it is over in January (since it is a seasonal position), and I don’t get to spend as much time there as I would like.

I have a couple friends who decided to move to France for the year because they couldn’t find jobs here. One of them studied political science and international studies and the other studied history and political science. They are now teaching English and nannying, respectively.

I have a couple friends who studied chemistry and physics, one is now spending 5 more years in grad school going for her PhD because there was nothing for her to do and the other is working through a temp agency in a lab doing work that a high school student could do. The jobs she is interested in are asking for college students, and she already has her degrees so she isn’t “qualified.”

Two of my friends who are lucky enough to be working in their field are those who went into psychology and are working with children with autism. They are the only two I really know of right now who are doing what they want to do.

Last fall (2008), a couple of friends saw this unemployment problem coming and didn’t really want to decide what to do with their lives yet so they decided to spend the year volunteering. One of them did Americorps and the other did Lutheran Volunteer Corps.

This was a wise choice on their part, but the one who has student loans to pay off didn’t qualify to get her payments deferred and is having trouble rounding up enough money each month from her stipend to cover it.

Nelson says she’s lucky she has family who can help her and her husband right now. “Otherwise we would really be in trouble. My husband just started attending seminary and we would not be able to get by with out their help, and many more student loans.

“We really are just counting our blessings that this is happening to us now when we don’t have children, a mortgage or any other huge things to deal with. Loans we can handle… for now anyway.”

We’ve talked with other new college grads who had to leave Minnesota to find work. The good news is they want to come back. It’s that sentiment that’s kept the state mostly strong and economically healthy for decades.

This time it’s different.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it if the work isn’t here, we will loose the talent,” says Nelson. “If the work isn’t here, innovation and experimentation will decrease and the companies here will loose the attraction to work for them, so it will be harder to get people to move back to Minnesota.”

After a decade of robust growth, the state’s labor force is projected to barely grow over the next 25 years, and it will age significantly. The building blocks are not in place for Minnesota’s future prosperity.

Who will grow the economy and maintain Minnesota’s quality of life? Anyone?


Think I’m overstating the worry about Minnesota’s future economy? Post below or contact me directly and let me know.

  • Bill Gleason

    This is a critical problem.

    Two of my recent students now work in Boston. Young people have to go where the jobs are, and if they aren’t in Minnesota folks will have to leave.

    I’d suggest that the State Legislature think very hard about how to encourage small businesses and to add job creation as an absolute requirement for future tax breaks. If a business moves to another state then any benefits should be forfeited.

    It is time to be proactive in Minnesota about job creation.

    Bill Gleason, U of M ’73 and faculty member

  • Mark

    We wouldn’t want to let any more talented people ‘loose’…I wonder if they make these kinds of mistakes in Boston?

    One thing to remember is the entire US has struggled with job creation over the last 10 years, and I believe will continue to struggle. US GDP grew only 2% per year over the last 10 years, while aggregate debt doubled. We have a demographic nightmare in front of us and massive structural issues with medicare and social security. So the entire country is in dire straights and I believe we’re headed into another lost decade. Our country’s situation is much like Japan 20 years ago. Unfortunately Minnesota has a bleaker outlook than the rest of the US. Let’s face it, there is nothing in Minnesota to distinguish it as a job creator anymore.

    There was a time when Minnesota’s education system, infrastructure, work ethic, were a differentiator, but that time has past. Taxes are still very high, the climate is terrible, other states have caught up or passed us in education, and the infrastructure has deterioriated significantly. Quality of life is mediocre so why are we so arrogant as to think our economy will be able to create enough jobs to retain the good people. We also seem to have decided not to invest in emerging industries (like biotech, software). Let’s just accept that this is a small state, with a horrible climate, with people slightly better educated than the rest of the country and move on.

  • Paul Tosto

    Mark, thanks. There’s still a great quality of life here. My worries have more to do with the future and who’s going to pay for it. If Minnesota can’t create wealth and grow the economy as it’s done the past 30-40 years, then that’s a problem because we’ve built a publicly funded infrastructure that will need to be taken apart if it can’t be sustained. The recession’s giving us a preview of that and it’s not pretty.

  • John O.

    At the individual level, a young person searching for that first job who does not feel bound to stay in a certain area for whatever reasons is not likely to look at overall tax burdens or any other macro-level comparison in their decision-making.

    They are going to relocate to where they can work and earn a paycheck.

  • Paul Tosto

    I agree to an extent. As a New Englander who married a Minnesotan, I can tell you the desire to stay in Minnesota is pretty deeply rooted in the DNA of people born here. Leaving is still a last resort for many, no matter the economy!

    Paul / MinnEcon