Triumph of the City: Minneapolis

My book club is reading Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard University. It has been an interesting read. I was a bit surprised to find Minneapolis with a short highlight on successful cities.

Many might also have written off Minneapolis, which lost 30 percent of its population between 1950 and 1980 and hardly seemed like a natural candidate for urban renaissance. The city’s winters make Boston seem balmy, and the advantages that once came from its riverside location became largely irrelevant after World War II. But Minneapolis, like Boston and New York, has come back. In 2009, per capita personal income in the Minneapolis metropolitan area was $45,750, making it the highest-earning metropolitan area in the Midwest and the twenty-fifth highest in the country.

The secret of the city’s success is education: 47.4 percent of the city’s adults have a college degree, and 37.5 percent of the Minneapolis area’s adults have a college degree, making it the seventh-best-educated metropolitan area with more than a million people in America. The Scandinavian Lutherans who originally settled the region brought with them a belief in learning, but most of all, Minneapolis’s highly educated population reflects its land-grant college, the University of Minnesota. The city’s most striking economic success stories have some link to that school.

Medtronic, which earns $14.6 billion in annual revenues and has thirty-eight thousand employees, was formed in 1949 when a graduate student in electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota partnered with his brother-in-law to make medical devices in a garage. The company’s early success reflected, in part, connections with people like Walt Lillehei, a University of Minnesota professor and a pioneer in open-heart surgery, who saw the need for a small, battery-powered pacemaker and turned to Medtronic to whip one up. Minneapolis’s megaretailer, Target, owes much of its success to Bob Ulrich, another University of Minnesota graduate, who helped create the chain’s blend of logistics and style. Target’s slightly more highbrow alternative to big-box competitors like Walmart and Kmart seems natural for the sophisticated Ulrich, a collector of African art who has spent a fortune endowing a Museum of Musical Instruments.

I didn’t realize Minneapolis ranked so high in education.

Jamie Thingelstad @jthingelstad

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