By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT COUNTY, MN “Wright County has a lot of things going for it,” regional analyst Cameron Macht told a group of business professionals at a recent Wright County Economic Development presentation in Delano.
“It’s one of the fastest-growing counties in the state,” said Macht, who works for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
From 2000 to 2010, Wright County’s population rose about 39 percent, making it second in growth rate only to Scott County, which experienced a 45 percent population increase.
Seven of the 30 fastest growing cities in the state were in Wright County, including Montrose, with a 149 percent jump (eighth fastest).
In nearby communities, Waverly went up 85 percent, Delano rose 42 percent, and Howard Lake grew about 6 percent.
Of Wright County’s 16 cities, only two saw a population decline, including Cokato (about 1 percent) and South Haven (about 8 percent).
The population in Wright County’s 18 townships is dropping, as well. Annexation is part of the reason, and more people are now opting to live in town instead of the country, Macht said.
Young and growing
With 124,700 people, Wright County is the 10th largest of Minnesota’s 87 counties.
Many of the residents are young families, with 44 percent of residents between the ages of 25 and 54.
However, Wright County has 2 percent fewer 15- to 24-year-olds than the state average, because of the lack of four-year colleges.
“Overall, Wright County’s population is significantly younger than the rest of the state,” Macht said. “One in four people in Wright County are school age.”
As a whole, about 20 percent of Minnesota’s population is zero to 14 years old, and 13 percent is 65 and over.
Wright County has a comparatively low number of senior citizens (about 10 percent).
It probably won’t stay that way forever, though.
“Because of the size of the baby boom generation, there will be a lot of elderly people in the future,” Macht said. “By 2030, about 20 percent of the state is expected to be 65-plus.”
If projections are accurate, that puts Wright County’s 2030 senior citizen population at about 17 percent.
“They are the fastest growing age group, and it’s just going to accelerate,” Macht said. “It’s a pretty significant shift overall.”
One major impact of an aging population is labor force availability.
In the past decade, Wright County’s labor force grew 30 percent. In the next 20 years, it’s expected to expand 53 percent, with the fastest growth among ages 65 and over.
Increased life expectancies, not planning for retirement, and loss of savings are a few reasons why people are choosing to stay in the workforce longer, according to Macht.
Minnesota has the second-highest labor force participation rate in the nation (71 percent), second only to Alaska (72 percent).
According to About.com, the labor force participation rate is the percentage of working-age people who are employed, or are unemployed but actively looking for a job.
Wright County’s labor force participation rate is extremely high (77 percent), which is fourth in the state.
Women are also well-established in the Wright County workforce (71 percent), compared to the state average of 67 percent.
“There are a lot of dual-income families, which can be a positive for businesses,” Macht said.
A labor exporter
About 18,000 people who live in Wright County also work in Wright County.
“Wright County is actually a net labor exporter,” Macht said. “Almost 26,000 Wright County residents work in Hennepin County.”
A total of 14,593 workers commute to Wright County, and 42,237 residents work outside the county, for a net outflow of 27,644 workers.
About 35,000 covered jobs are in Wright County. A “covered” job refers to work that is for an employer.
“It might seem low, but 35,000 is actually a pretty sizeable economy,” Macht said.
There are also more than 8,000 self-employed people and 643 active farms. The average farmer is 55.4 years old.
“For the most part, farms are either getting really small or really large,” Macht said. “The ones in the middle are kind of getting gobbled up.”
In Wright County, as well as the rest of the US, the recession has impacted job growth.
From 2000 to 2007, Wright County gained, on average, 1,278 new jobs per year.
Then, from 2007 to 2010, it lost 2,783 jobs.
The largest employing industry in the county is retail trade, which provides about 17 percent of the jobs.
Health care/social assistance is second, followed by manufacturing, educational services, accommodation/food services, construction, public administration, and wholesale trade.
Central Minnesota workers typically earn less than those in the Twin Cities. The median hourly wage in central Minnesota is $15.46, compared to $19.20 in the Twin Cities.
People in higher paying industries are more likely to commute, Macht said. For example, the median annual wage for a management position in central Minnesota is $76,768, compared to $101,983 in the Twin Cities.
For food preparation and serving-related occupations, the wage gap is smaller $18,938 in central Minnesota and $20,321 in the Twin Cities.
Unemployment is an issue throughout the state, with 15,416 unemployed people in Region 7W (Wright, Sherburne, Stearns, and Benton counties).
“In Region 7W, there is one job for every 12 people who are looking,” Macht said.
To learn more about the Wright County Economic Development Partnership, call executive director Luke Bauman at (763) 477-3086, or executive assistant Jeanene Strum at (763) 477-3035.