Light layers of fog were rolling off the lake, turning into wisps of steam as the sun slowly rose above the horizon. The aroma of my fresh cup of coffee mixed with the soft, sweet summer air, already warm on its way to the mid-80s; the silence was occasionally broken by the far-off call of a loon. It was as picture-perfect as it gets, sitting on the deck at a cabin near Emily, Minn. And I had to be to work in downtown Minneapolis within three hours.
I made it with time to spare. The walk from the parking garage to my office took me through the Hennepin County Government Center where two guys in red, white and blue fuzzy top hats were playing acoustic guitars surprisingly well. I passed by the usual diverse parade of professionals in the skyways. And I arrived at my desk, just about exactly three hours after leaving the lake. Later that day, I was again outside, this time enjoying a Twins game at Target Field. Others I knew were taking in a touring Broadway play, listening to outstanding live music or dining at a restaurant that serves some of the best cuisine anywhere.
This experience got me to wondering: How many other places are there where we can have this wide-ranging choice of activity within such a short timespan? The answer: Zero. And when you think about all of the other attributes of this state, it’s difficult to find anywhere else better to work and live.
We don’t rank No. 1 in a lot of areas. Rather, we top rankings here and there, while showing up within the top five, 10 or 15 nearly all of the time. Our tally of No. 1s and close-to-top-place finishes bests every other state.
Take, for example, the combination of enjoying the woodland lake scene three hours from a major metropolitan area that also is home to major sports franchises, great restaurants and live theater.
Minnesota is one of only 13 major metropolitan areas with four major sports teams (baseball, football, hockey and basketball). Among the other 12, only Boston, Denver, Detroit, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco are as close to locations as beautiful as the lakes of northern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin (and few of them have anything as close as Lake Minnetonka).
Then let’s look at other factors. Minneapolis consistently ranks among the top 10 best cities for live theater (as do New York and Boston). But only Minneapolis has more theater seats per capita than any other U.S. city after New York.
Then there’s dining out. The Twin Cities ranks fifth in Travel + Leisure’s “America’s Best Cities for Foodies” after Houston, Providence, R.I., Kansas City and Atlanta. Other experts also rank Twin Cities chefs as among the best in the nation.
Thus, Minnesota is the best place in the country for those of us who enjoy being on a lake three hours or less away from dining out and/or enjoying live theater or taking in a pro-sports game. And given the percentages of Minnesotans participating in these activities, that’s pretty important.
A recent report by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) found that Minnesotans spent $661.5 million on a new powerboat, engine, trailer or accessories last year. That’s up 10 percent from 2014.
In fact, Minnesotans are some of the nation’s biggest buyers in the recreational boating market. Spending in the state surpassed all but three other water-heavy states (Florida, Texas and Michigan). All told, we own 809,000 boats here—the second-highest percentage of boats per capita in the country, after Florida. And this adds up to a direct and indirect annual economic impact in this state of about $5.5 billion supporting more than 29,000 jobs.
Other ways our below-first-place rankings add up to “bests” include agriculture. While we’re the largest turkey producer in the nation, we’re second-largest in hogs, sixth in cheese and honey, and eighth in milk production. In the crops arena, we crank out the most sugarbeets, but are second in wild rice, and fourth in corn, soybeans and flaxseed. All told, Minnesota ranks as the nation’s fifth-largest ag-producing state. And this level of output generates about $10 billion in farm income, and an overall direct and indirect economic benefit of $55 billion, and 367,000 jobs here. For those of you who are State Fair fans, this also explains why our fair ranks as the nation’s best, and largest by daily attendance.
There are other examples: While our state doesn’t have the most miles of bicycle trails, Minneapolis ranks as the best city in America for bicycling, and the state is considered the second-friendliest. We don’t have the most golf courses, or the best courses, but we have the most golfers per capita…
When compared with other states, we’re lucky to have all the amenities we do. Our unique combination of high rankings, if not firsts, helps explain why we continue to do well attracting and retaining talent, operating and growing thousands of successful companies, and innovating future successful businesses and leaders. And it helps explain why we have the fantastic array of outstanding business leaders who are in the forefront of their industries, highlighted this month through our annual Minnesota Business Hall of Fame profiles.
I hope you enjoy this month’s issue, and everything else Minnesota has to offer this summer.