By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, CARVER, McLEOD 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.
Locally, Howard Lake is only slightly above average, with a typical drive time of 23.4 minutes.
“I know that a majority of our residents do commute for work either to Hutchinson or primarily to the west metro, but I think having a few large employers in a town of 2,000 helps keep our average down,” Howard Lake City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp noted. “Dura Supreme, American Spirit Mailing, the HLWW School District, Howard Lake Good Samaritan Center, and Munson Lakes Nutrition are our major employers.”
In Wright County, the mean commute is 29.6 minutes. Carver County’s is also higher than average, at 25.1 minutes. In Meeker County, people drive 23.4 minutes to work on average, and in McLeod, they drive 20.6 minutes.
Winsted’s mean drive time is 24.2, which is above state average, but lower than Lester Prairie’s time of 26.7 minutes, and Watertown’s time of 30.1 minutes.
“I think the numbers confirm what representatives within the city as well as community members already know that Winsted is a good location that is commutable to either the Twin Cities or Hutchinson area,” Winsted City Administrator Andrew Elbert noted. “I think the city’s commute time, which is lower than other communities shown, also speaks to the strong industrial base of the community and the employment created through those particular businesses.”
People in rural towns sometimes have farther 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.”
The average Montrose resident spends 34.7 minutes getting to work.
Locally, the longest commutes 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.”
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.
Holmes said she’s not surprised by Waverly’s relatively high commute time, because it matches a resident survey done in the summer of 2008.
“At that time, nearly 60 percent of our residents who responded reported a commute distance of greater than 30 miles, with nearly a third of these reporting a commute of over 40 miles,” Holmes said.
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 minutes to work.
Cokato is a nearby city with a relatively short commute, at an average of 19.1 minutes.
“Many employers are within 20 miles,” Cokato Museum Director Mike Worcester said.
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.”
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.”
“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.
How does your commute compare?
Here are the mean commute time estimates (in minutes) for local cities, as reported by the US Census Bureau’s 5-year American Community Survey (ACS).
• Cokato 19.1
• Howard Lake 23.4
• Winsted 24.2
• Loretto 25.2
• Dassel 25.3
• Delano 25.4
• Lester Prairie 26.7
• Mayer 29.8
• Watertown 30.1
• Montrose 34.7
• Waverly 39
• New Germany 40.6