The Free Press, Mankato, MN


December 31, 2013

Our View: Mankato region shows progress in 2013

Why it matters: The Mankato region has shown economic progress but also some warning signs

A look back at 2013 to examine the Mankato area’s progress as a regional community shows more positives than negatives and some encouraging signs that the area may indeed be breaking out to the next level of growth.

That growth will likely be driven by an increasing regional population base, a public and private service sector that will serve that base and continual gains by the regional retail sector.

For the first time in a long time, industrial development has also shown significant gains and that may further increase the skilled labor force, which in turn helps bolster average wages.

The recent need and voter approval of $70 million in Mankato school expansions, including a new east side middle school, is indicative of the population growth. The Mankato school age population has grown about 10 percent over the last 10 years with projections showing another 10 percent growth in the next five years.

The growth not only drives the need for new and upgraded educational facilities, but also suggests a growth in a key demographic – families and households – that drives economic activity. Hints of this have been showing up in the last two or three years with the growth in strip mall developments housing service businesses from pizza shops to entertainment and clothing retailers.

The service industry, including new eating and drinking establishments, has been on the rise, with announcements of new restaurants almost monthly. The entertainment and eating venues spur other developments including city center office/residential combination structures. The office tower/restaurant/housing development of the Tailwind group for South Front Street and Riverfront Drive is the first of its size in decades.

Industrial growth will further diversify the region’s economic base. The Wal-Mart distribution center will begin construction this spring and be hiring an estimated 300 to 500 workers by 2015. Other industrial developments such as Imperial Plastics and possible expansion of MTU Onsite Energy will support the new growth. The medical facilities are also expanding their operations and Mankato Clinic is in the midst of an $8.9 million expansion of its Wickersham campus.

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