Give the weather credit for Minneapolis’ fantastic unemployment rate

Minneapolis jobs numbers
Minneapolis-St. Paul unemployment: Not too shabby! (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

When the jobs numbers came out for metropolitan areas last week, the unemployment ranking had a surprising winner: The decidedly middle-American Minneapolis-St. Paul, clocking in at 4.7 percent. What's going on in the Midwest these days? Is it something in the water? Should we all move to Minnesota?

It wouldn't be a terrible idea. Minnesota unemployment usually tracks below the national average, and the Twin Cities even below that. The region is blessed with 19 Fortune 500 companies, like Cargill, United Health Group, 3M, Target, Best Buy, Medtronic, and General Mills. It's also a national center for the fast-growing medical device industry, giving it a pretty healthy base of careers in science and technology fields, with the revenue-generating patents and high incomes that come with them.

There are a couple of other less apparent factors behind Minneapolis' success. Three decades ago, the regional governing body set up the Fiscal Disparities Act, which created a tax revenue-sharing agreement for a seven-county area. That facilitates regional cooperation in attracting companies--something that the tri-state Washington D.C. area struggles with, as each jurisdiction tries to steal companies from its neighbor. Also, the area has been a target for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has helped establish Somali, Hmong, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, and Liberian communities in the area. Immigrants start businesses at twice the rate of native-born U.S. citizens, so that's a leg up too.

But what of this miraculous May unemployment number? It might be a little bit of a fluke, says state economist Laura Kalambokidis. The region had a nasty spring, weather-wise, which delayed hiring for construction and tourism jobs. When things got nice again, both those sectors saw big jumps. So the Twin Cities are still as good a place as any to go looking for work--but there's nothing magic in May's numbers.

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.

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