By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, MEEKER COUNTIES, MN If you drive less than 22.2 minutes to get to work, congratulations: You’re below the state average for commute time.
The US Census Bureau released a 5-year American Community Survey (ACS) estimate Dec. 14 for the first time, making social, economic, housing, and demographic statistics available for every community in the nation.
Cokato’s mean commute time is 19.1 minutes. The reason it’s below state average most likely has to do with strong employment opportunities, according to Cokato Museum Director Mike Worcester
“You have to consider the major employers,” Worcester said. “Hutchinson Technology, 3M, and Dura Supreme hire a lot of folks in this area. You also have the smaller to medium-sized manufacturing companies. Many employers are within 20 miles.”
Worcester said he’s one of the lucky few who walks to work each day.
“I live two blocks from my office,” he said. “I put a cap and gloves on, and I’m good to go. Not everyone has that advantage.”
In Meeker County, people drive 23.4 minutes to work on average, and in McLeod, they drive 20.6 minutes.
In Wright County, the mean commute is 29.6 minutes. Carver County’s is also higher than average, at 25.1 minutes.
In Dassel, the typical commute is 25.3 minutes. Dassel City Administrator Myles McGrath commented that he’s not sure why it’s higher than other nearby areas.
“Dassel is closer to the Twin Cities than most of Meeker County, and closer to Hutchinson, St. Cloud, and Litchfield than Cokato,” McGrath noted. “There just seems to be something not quite right about the number assigned to Dassel.”
The commute time for Dassel was listed as having a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 minutes.
The data for the study was based on a rolling annual sample survey mailed to about 3 million addresses between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2009. The estimates represent the average characteristics during that five-year period, not a single point in time.
The amount of traffic can make a big difference in the time it takes to get to work.
“My youngest brother lives in Minneapolis and works in Bloomington,” Worcester said. “Mile-wise, it’s not that far, but it can take 45 minutes, just because of the sheer volume of traffic.”
People in rural towns sometimes have longer commutes than workers who live in the Twin Cities, but the drive is worth it for most residents.
Montrose City Administrator Barb Swanson put it this way: “Do you want to be at home in a small, safe, quiet city and enjoy all that is part of rural life with excellent access to the night life of the Twin Cities, or would you prefer to live in the traffic jam 24/7? I think a little longer drive time gives you a little extra down time to change gears from career to home.”
Locally, the longest commute times were reported in New Germany, with an average of 40.6 minutes, and Waverly, with an average of 39 minutes.
“We believe that the commute time is higher than the state average because the centers where many of our residents tend to work the Minneapolis area, St. Paul, St. Cloud are about this distance away,” Waverly Mayor Connie Holmes noted. “Maple Grove and Plymouth are two other areas that our residents tend to work, and these areas are also over 30 miles away. Finally, many of our residents work in construction trades, where the jobs can be miles away.”
Small cities with fewer local employment options have other features that attract residents, such as housing, education, and proximity to family.
A local survey of Mayer’s residents in 2008 showed that the most popular reason for choosing to live in Mayer was affordable housing, followed by rural/small-town appeal. In Mayer, the average commuter drives 29.8 miles to work.
“Local jobs are growing but are still lagging behind the number of workers,” Swanson noted. “It is the number-one goal of the region to increase employment along US Highway 12. To that end, the cities of Delano, Montrose, Waverly, Howard Lake, Cokato, and Dassel have formed the ‘Best of 12’ organization to promote economic growth along the corridor to provide more jobs for local residents.”
To view the data in detail, go to http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/american_community_survey_acs/cb10-cn90.html.
Reports for specific cities can be found by going to www.factfinder.census.gov.