by Brent Pearson
The Mankato-North Mankato Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) consists of Blue Earth and Nicollet counties and is a relatively new MSA. As one of 366 MSAs in the United States, the Mankato-North Mankato MSA ranked as the 348th most populous in 2011, with an estimated population of 97,204. While it may be a small metro in size, the region has two key assets that could potentially drive economic growth going forward: industry diversification and access to low-cost student workers with diverse skill sets and flexible work schedules.
Mankato and North Mankato are ripe with retail trade and accommodation and food service jobs, numbering 6,650 and 3,533 jobs, respectively, in 2011. With 6,560 jobs, manufacturing is also a strong regional employer, second only in terms of employment to health care and social assistance, with 6,985 jobs. With these pillars, the area is diverse in its industry mix and available workforce.
Having a diverse industry mix is good for a regional economy and labor market because a given region would not have all its economic eggs in one basket. There are many different employers to which a job seeker can match their skills and, thus, unemployment is relatively low. Retail and service sector employment, which typically requires less on-the-job training and affords workers greater flexibility in their schedules, are more likely to offer easily transferable skills. (Think cashiers—a person with cashiering skills can operate a cash register in a retail establishment and can also operate one in a food service establishment with little retraining.)
The region also has a wealth of college students that can benefit from flexible hours and seasonal work environments in retail and service sector employment. The low unemployment rate in the Mankato-North Mankato MSA reflects the workforce tendencies of service sector and retail employment and a diverse workforce ripe with college students. In 2012, the annual average unemployment rate for the Mankato-North Mankato MSA was 4.7 percent. The regional has had the lowest annual unemployment rate of any Minnesota MSA every year since 1998.
Industry mix and access to a low-cost, diverse, and readily available workforce are foundations upon which the Mankato-North Mankato MSA has begun to stamp its economic footprint.