by Brent Pearson
In the 20 counties that make up the South Central and Southeast Minnesota regions, the working age population (age 16 to 64) is about 62 percent of the total population. This means that six out of 10 regional residents between the ages of 16 to 64 are working. Digging a little deeper reveals some interesting trends.
Ranking all of the state’s 87 counties on their working age population shows that Blue Earth and Nicollet – two counties which make up the Mankato-North Mankato Metropolitan Statistical Area – rank 1st and 4nd in the state with the largest working age population, at 69.2 and 65.7 percent, respectively. Furthermore, Winona County ranks 2nd (at 67.5 percent) and Rice County ranks 10th (at 64.1 percent). In total, four of the top ten counties with the highest working age population were in the South Central and Southeast regions. Clearly, Mankato-North Mankato MSA and Winona County have a wealth of potential workers per capita compared to other areas in Minnesota.
It’s one thing to have the availability of a workforce, and quite another to actually put that workforce to work. A recent iSpeak blog post pointed out that the Mankato-North Mankato MSA had some of the lowest unemployment rates among any Minnesota-based MSA during the past 15 years. Essentially, these counties have high numbers of workers from which to draw, and are doing well at putting them to work. Why?
Workforce diversity—workers’ ability to adjust to changing conditions by working fewer hours or working across many industries—may be part of the reason. While a flexible workforce is essential to put people to work, a diverse industry mix also provides many opportunities for workers to find work in their respective fields. The Southeast and South Central regions are nearly identical in their industry mix, with the notable exception of the size and intensity of health care in the Southeast region.
According to industry employment data, the top employing industries in South Central are manufacturing (accounting for 19 percent of employment in the region in 2012), health care (17 percent), retail trade (12 percent), educational services (9 percent), and accommodation and food services (9 percent). The top employing industries in the Southeast region are the same, but with different percentages: health care (25.9 percent), manufacturing (15.8 percent), retail trade (11.5 percent), educational services (7.9 percent), and accommodation and food services (7.8 percent).
This industry mix does represent a vast array of occupations ranging from higher-paying technical health care (surgeons, physicians, health care practitioners) and manufacturing positions to service sector occupations, which typically offer lower wages and more work-week flexibility.
Of course, this industry mix and percent of the working age population may be region-specific: it may work well for southern Minnesota but could not be replicated as well in Northeastern Minnesota, where other industries (like mining) play a greater role. However, when considering how to work towards full employment, it is important that economic developers, policymakers, and other consider the industry mix, the working age population, and the ability of workers to be flexible in the jobs they take. These ingredients are important to economic success.
What is important, though, is that employers have four counties in the South Central and Southeast region with the highest percentage of working age adults from which to draw workers. And these workers have a diverse industry environment in which to find jobs.