Phil Wheeler: Growth will test region's infrastructure, work force

Our community has plans in place that anticipate and provide for continued growth.

The 2011 County Land Use Plan Update, the Rochester Downtown Master Plan and the 2010 Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments Long Range Transportation Plan all relied on forecasts developed by the planning staff in 2004. The forecasts assumed that health-care employment would maintain the same relative position in comparison with the rest of the nation that it has enjoyed for the past few decades.

Because of the demographic changes affecting the country (with the aging of baby boomers, the demand for health care is increasing exponentially), we assumed consistent strong growth in health-care employment.

Our total employment forecast for 2030 was 143,500 jobs.

Comparing our projections to the data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis for 2010 shows the recession had a significant effect for many employment sectors in Olmsted County. Most notable was a 37 percent decline in manufacturing employment since 2000.


Fortunately for our community, this decline was offset by 32 percent growth in health-care employment, giving Olmsted County a net gain in jobs over the decade of 7 percent, despite a loss of 2,000 jobs since 2008. Health-care employment during the 2000s maintained its relative edge compared to the nation.

The State Demographic Center's projected population for Olmsted County in 2030 is 192,300, for a total growth of just less than 50,000 and a labor force growth of 17,000. Following the 2010 census and the release of the State Demographic Center's revised population forecasts, we have adjusted our employment forecasts. Assuming that manufacturing employment remains stable at its current lower level, adjusting the other sectors for the effect of the recession and the Destination Medical Center forecasts, and applying the local ratios of basic sector to support sector jobs, our total becomes 149,400 jobs. This is roughly consistent in total with our original forecasts, although the health sector is a larger share of the total.

This means we could grow by about 37,000 jobs over a 20-year period. Olmsted County has been through rapid employment growth before. From 1983 to 2003, we grew by 35,000 jobs. That was during a time when baby boomers were entering the labor force, and this will be during a time when baby boomers are retiring. This presents a challenge.

A job growth of 37,000 with a labor force growth of 17,000 leaves a shortage of 20,000 workers. This shortage will have to be made up by increased commuting, deferred or part-time retirement or increased migration (population movement into our area from other places in the U.S. or the rest of the world).

Our forecast already projects continued strong workforce migration, but it is not enough. We expect to need to rely on commuting to fill much of this gap, based on trends; net commuting in the last decade grew several times faster than net migration. Our ability to rely on commuting will depend heavily on our ability to invest in safe and energy-efficient infrastructure, such as improved regional road and transit systems, including passenger rail. There are significant funding challenges for all of these.

Another challenge associated with our changing employment mix is the increased share of lower-wage jobs that a shift from manufacturing to service-sector jobs entails. As a greater share of our employment shifts to lodging, restaurants, entertainment, and retail trade, a larger share of our work force will be lower-wage workers, with accompanying strains on household budgets for housing, food, transportation, child care, and early childhood education.

We will need to increase community supports for this essential part of our workforce including investments in affordable housing, affordable high quality childcare, and affordable transportation.

The community's interest in employment growth carries with it an obligation to address all of these issues.

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