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County Snapshots: Benton, Big Stone, Blue Earth, Brown

by Chet Bodin
May 2017

Minnesota map showing Benton county


Past

Benton County was one of the original nine counties established by the territorial legislature in 1849 and was one of the three which were declared organized. The county was named in honor of Thomas Hart Benton, a senator from Missouri, who worked diligently to have Congress enact the Homestead Act. It is one of nine counties named after Mr. Benton in the United States.

Future

In 2017 Benton County became one of the primary sites for the Industrial Hemp Pilot Project through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The average hemp grain yield in Minnesota in 2016 was 1,334 pounds of grain per acre1, making the crop a potentially lucrative and environmentally friendly alternative for small land holders in rural parts of Benton County.

 

Economy

2016 Estimates

Benton

Minnesota

Population

39,992

5,489,594

Labor Force

21,540

2,990,254

Average Unemployment

4.5%

3.9%

Average Annual Income

$39,818

$54,457

Cost of Living, Individual

$27,039

$30,084

Cost of Living, Average Family

$45,782

$80,976

Source: DEED Local Area Unemployment Statistics, Cost of Living; U.S. Census Bureau, 2016 American Community Survey

 

Industry

Benton

Top Industries of Employment

Total 2015 Employment

Percent Change
2006-2015

Average
Annual Wages

Percent Change
2006-2015

Total, All Industries

16,861

1.2%

$38,605

20.9%

1

Manufacturing

3,567

-28.4%

$45,994

8.9%

2

Trade, Transportation, and Utilities

3,472

5.9%

$38,431

33.3%

3

Education and Health Services

3,306

19.2%

$30,665

21.9%

4

Construction

1,826

55.7%

$56,793

46.3%

Source: DEED Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages 2006-2015


Trends

Manufacturing remained the industry with the highest employment in Benton County, despite shedding nearly 1,500 jobs since 2006, a 28.4 percent decline since before the recession. However, other industries in Benton County are picking up the slack. Notable, Construction jobs increased by 55.7 percent (up 653) since 2006, led by a significant increase of 495 in Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction jobs. In addition, average annual wages in Construction have surpassed those in Manufacturing, although wages in both industries increased since 2006. Like most of Minnesota, a large part of the Benton County population is entering retirement age and in need of more healthcare, leading to more jobs in Education and Healthcare Services, an increase of 533. Almost 400 of these jobs were added in Nursing and Residential Care Facilities.

1 http://www.morrissuntribune.com/farm/agriculture/4244926-growing-future


Minnesota map showing Big Stone county

Past

Big Stone County was founded in 1862, but remained unorganized until 1881. Big Stone is the English translation for the Dakota Indian word for outcrops of granite and gneiss found in nearby Minnesota Valley. So widespread are the granite deposits that Big Stone County has become one of the leading granite mining areas in the United States. The county’s first known granite quarry, the Baxter Quarry, was in operation as early as 1886. 2

Future

In 2015 the Federated Telephone Cooperative in Big Stone County raised $7.92 million to construct broadband infrastructure, in part from DEED’s Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program. The ongoing project has brought broadband service to over 1,072 unserved areas in and around the cities of Ortonville, Barry, Beardsley, and Johnson. This investment has potential to bring more professional services to Big Stone County and provides the technological basis for future growth throughout the local economy.

 

Economy

2016 Estimates

Big Stone County

Minnesota

Population

5,050

5,489,594

Labor Force

2,718

2,990,254

Average Unemployment

4.9%

3.9%

Average Annual Income

$37,104

$54,457

Cost of Living, Individual

$25,162

$30,084

Cost of Living, Average Family

$42,309

$80,976

Source: DEED Local Area Unemployment Statistics; Cost of Living; U.S. Census Bureau,
2016 American Community Survey

 

Industry

Big Stone

Top Industries of Employment

Total 2015 Employment

Percent Change
2006-2015

Average
Annual Wages

Percent Change
2006-2015

 

Total, All Industries

1,753

-8.9%

$36,528

50.9%

1

Education and Health Services

739

-0.1%

$36,417

42.7%

2

Trade, Transportation, and Utilities

335

2.8%

$34,007

52.6%

3

Construction

193

8.4%

$59,771

58.5%

4

Public Administration

154

-16.8%

$40,649

39.5%

Source: DEED Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages 2006-2015


Trends

Over 42 percent of employment in Big Stone County is found in Education and Health Services, although there has not been much change in the number of jobs in these fields since 2006. Wages, on the other hand, have increased dramatically across all the major industries in Big Stone County. This is likely an attempt to keep up with the competition for workers as the labor market tightens. Already, there are nearly 200 fewer jobs in Big Stone County than there were 10 years ago. Recent investments in broadband aim to spur growth and grab the attention of future job-seekers and entrepreneurs.

2 http://prairiewaters.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Prairie-Waters-Visitors-Guide.pdf


Minnesota map showing Blue Earth county

Past

Blue Earth County saw great growth near the end of the 19th Century and has developed into a major part of Minnesota’s economy. Originally a major railroad thoroughfare, some of the first industries included milling, transportation, and agriculture. Private and public post-secondary educational institutions have been established in Blue Earth County since then, adding a healthy dose of culture and social capital to the area. Consequently, the mix of industries and people in the county resulted in a population increase of 48 percent between 1950 and 2015.

Future

Over 86 acres of former quarry land near downtown Mankato are part of the city and county redevelopment plans for the coming years. The broader community of residents and business owners have discussed using the property for a high-tech business park, a mountain biking park, or even a drive-in movie theatre3. Regardless, the new development is sure to change the composition of Blue Earth County’s largest city and has the potential to bring many new jobs to the area

 

Economy

2016 Estimates

Blue Earth County

Minnesota

Population

66,441

5,489,594

Labor Force

39,471

2,990,254

Average Unemployment

3.2%

3.9%

Average Annual Income

$40,922

$54,457

Cost of Living, Individual

$26,827

$30,084

Cost of Living, Average Family

$45,080

$80,976

Source: DEED Local Area unemployment Statistics; Cost of Living; U.S. Census Bureau, 2016
American Community Survey

 

Industry

Blue Earth

Top Industries of Employment

Total 2015
Employment

Percent Change
2006-2015

Average
Annual Wages

Percent Change
2006-2015

 

Total, All Industries

38,666

5.6%

$40,036

22.0%

1

Education and Health Services

12,011

21.9%

$44,913

22.9%

2

Trade, Transportation, and Utilities

8,735

1.4%

$31,117

23.4%

3

Leisure and Hospitality

4,114

11.5%

$13,344

37.7%

4

Manufacturing

3,703

-1.2%

$54,028

35.9%

Source: DEED Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages 2006-2015


Trends

Unsurprisingly, Education and Health Services is the leading industry in terms of employment in Blue Earth County, both of which account for a higher portion of jobs in the county than they do statewide. Growth in the combined sector was over 21 percent since 2006. Leisure and Hospitality also contributed to the economic recovery in Blue Earth County, growing by over 11 percent since its pre-recession level. Average annual wages grew in most industries throughout the county, led by Manufacturing where the average annual wage increased from $39,761 in 2010 to $54,028 in 2016 – a 35.9 percent hike. Often overshadowed by education institutions in the region, Manufacturing is not typically identified with Blue Earth County, but it continues to provide a sustainable income for many of its long-term residents.

3 http://www.mankatofreepress.com/news/next-up-planning-for-quarry-redevelopment/article_6c510ca4-26d7-11e7-8117-87131d9f1dde.html


Minnesota map showing Brown county

Past

Much of Brown County was established in the mid-nineteenth century by German settlers to take advantage of the fertile Minnesota River Valley and burgeoning railroad economy. In additional to agriculture and stock, some of the first family breweries in the nation were started in Brown County’s largest city, New Ulm. By 1916 the brewing industry in Brown County employed over 70 people in the New Ulm area and produced approximately 30,000 barrels per year.4

Future

Although it isn’t one of the top industries in terms of employment, the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce notes that over 53 percent of the economy is still related to agriculture. Animal production in particular remains one of the most influential industries in Brown County. The New Ulm Economic Development Authority recently reported a new hog processing plant is expected to employ 1,100 people in the area by 2020.5

 

Economy

2016 Estimates

Brown County

Minnesota

Population

25,331

5,489,594

Labor Force

14,755

2,990,254

Average Unemployment

4.1%

3.9%

Average Annual Income

$39,618

$54,457

Cost of Living, Individual

$23,450

$30,084

Cost of Living, Average Family

$41,240

$80,976

Source: DEED Local Area Unemployment Statistics; Cost of Living; U.S. Census Bureau,
2016 American Community Survey

 

Industry

Brown

Top Industries of Employment

Total 2015 Employment

Percent Change
2006-2015

Average
Annual Wages

Percent Change
2006-2015

 

Total, All Industries

13,828

-2.6%

$38,710

29.4%

1

Education and Health Services

3,088

5.5%

$36,844

32.4%

2

Trade, Transportation, and Utilities

2,786

3.8%

$31,011

25.2%

3

Manufacturing

2,783

-24.0%

$51,308

30.8%

4

Leisure and Hospitality

1,158

-5.2%

$12,114

27.9%

Source: DEED Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages 2006-2015


Trends

Currently (2016 Q3), employment in animal production was over 10 times more prevalent in Brown County than the rest of the state. Self-employed individuals in Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting also increased between 2010 and 2014 in Brown County. Manufacturing has shed jobs in Brown County since 2006, but wages have increased by over 30 percent to an average of $51,308 annually for its employees. In fact, wages in all industries have increased by almost 30 percent across Brown County since 2006 while the cost of living for an average family in Brown County is almost half of what it costs in Minnesota on average.

4 History of Brown County, Minnesota: Its People, Industries and Institutions; Fritsche, L.A. 1916. Walsworth. https://books.google.com/books?id=Nm8_AQAAMAAJ
5 http://www.nujournal.com/news/local-news/2017/01/11/new-ulm-development-officials-work-to-recruit-prospects/

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