Metro area creeps farther into rural Minnesota

In the eyes of the federal government, urban Minnesota has just pushed a little farther into the countryside.

What used to be a 13-county metropolitan statistical area now contains 16 counties. Mille Lacs, Sibley and Le Sueur counties, which still look pretty rural if you go driving around the likes of Milaca or Winthrop, are now considered by the federal Office of Management and Budget part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

Part of this is statistical artifice, and at least a couple research folks I’ve talked to around town have been scratching their heads about how meaningful it is. But one thing it says is that the artery of commerce and commuting that for some time has tied the Twin Cities to the St. Cloud area is being duplicated in regards to Mankato.

Just as the Twin Cities MSA is contiguous with the St. Cloud MSA, it now touches the Mankato MSA as well.

The government uses these statistical areas to make comparisons across the country’s urban areas because they are defined more consistently than the legal boundaries of cities and counties. A county is added to an MSA when more than a quarter of its workforce commutes to the “core counties” of the statistical area.

Le Sueur and Sibley counties lie on either side of the Minnesota River between the Twin Cities and Mankato. So if the workforce in those areas now comes to the Twin Cities in larger numbers, it’s evidence that the Highway 169 corridor along the river is becoming a more significant connector to the metro area.

But still, does that make Sibley County residents metropolitan creatures? I asked Kristi Ziegler that question. The 48-year-old administrative assistant drives 77 miles every work day to her job with Teamsters Local 320 on University Avenue in Minneapolis and then comes home to her house a mile and a half outside Winthrop, population 1,400.

“I feel I have the best of both worlds,” she said, sampling restaurants in the city, for example, and enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside “away from the hustle and bustle.” Ziegler is among those small town products who left rural Minnesota, joined the Army, worked in the Twin Cities and then, 10 years ago, moved back to Winthrop from Edina when she remarried.

When she shops or goes out for entertainment, she said she goes, not back to the Twin Cities, but to Mankato, New Ulm or Hutchinson. So, maybe she’s not entirely a metro woman, in spite of the new federal designation.

What about Mille Lacs County to the north? That’s more of a numbers trick than a real-world phenomenon. For the first time, Sherburne and Wright counties, already in the MSA, are considered “core counties.” So Mille Lacs residents working next door in Sherburne County now magically count as commuters to the urban core.

At any rate, here’s what the new Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Statistical Area, the nation’s 16th most populous, looks like in Minnesota. In case you’re counting, two of its counties, St. Croix and Pierce, are in Wisconsin.

Twin Cities MSA 2013.JPG

For more on this check out the Q and A Wilder Research’s Minnesota Compass website did with Metropolitan Council principal demographer Todd Graham.