The industries most closely associated with Minnesota—agriculture, forestry, and mining—amount to just two percent of the state’s Gross State Product (GSP). With over 90 percent of the country’s primary industries represented, Minnesota has one of the nation’s most diverse economies.
Generating one-quarter of the state’s $262 billion GSP, service industries are the state’s leading—and fastest-growing—sector. Following services are finance, insurance, and real estate services; trade; and manufacturing.
The economy is consistently one of the strongest in the nation. Throughout the 1990s and on into the 21st century, job and GSP growth in Minnesota soundly outpaced the national average; unemployment in all major industries and for all major occupations has consistently been several points lower than the national rate, exports outpace imports by over 50 percent, and per capita income has risen to ninth-highest in the nation.
Additionally, with 17 of them headquartered here, Minnesota ranks first in the number of Fortune 500 companies per capita. Target, U.S. Bancorp, 3M, Best Buy, General Mills, and Hormel Foods are some of the best known.
Even though farming accounts for just a tiny fraction of the state’s economy and, for the most part, only occurs in the southern and western tiers, Minnesota ranks sixth nationally in total farm income, with annual receipts topping $15.8 billion. One significant factor behind the agricultural success is that Minnesota farmers have always been national leaders in supporting cooperative business organizations.
The top five agricultural products are, in order, corn, soybeans, hogs, dairy products, and cattle: Together they account for more than 75 percent of all agricultural cash receipts. Also, Minnesota raises more sugar beets, sweet corn, green peas, and turkeys than any other state and is second for wild rice and canola. Other crops ranking in the top five include corn, soybeans, oats, sunflowers, dairy products, honey, and hogs.
The first iron mine opened in northeastern Minnesota in the 1880s, and the state has been the nation’s leader in ore production ever since. Virtually all of it was dug out of the Vermilion, Cuyuna, and Mesabi Iron Ranges in northern Minnesota. Only the Mesabi Range, by far the largest of the three, is still worked these days, but it manages to provide two-thirds of the United States’ supply of iron ore. The industry—notoriously volatile—suffered setbacks and shutdowns in the economic turmoil of 2008 and 2009, but has at times contributed more than $750 million to the state’s economy.
While that is just half a percent of the state’s GSP, it’s the lifeblood of many Iron Range communities. The Mesabi still has enough ore to keep the mines operating at current rates for over 200 years. There is relatively little mining besides iron, though Minnesota also leads the nation in granite production, most of it quarried around St. Cloud, and is near the top in sand, gravel, and peat.
Minnesota was the leading lumber-producing state for most of the last half of the 19th century, but the Paul Bunyan cut-and-run era of logging died out in the early 20th century. Today logging is just a shadow of its former self, but associated paper- and wood-manufacturing companies are much bigger players in the economy and employ nearly 60,000 people.
While manufacturing employment has fallen nationally, it has been on the increase in Minnesota, and high-tech industries are leading the sector’s rise. It began in the 1980s with computing pioneers Control Data and Cray Research, and today the state is a leader in e-commerce technology and medical instruments. Medtronic, inventors of the cardiac pacemaker, is one of hundreds of members of Medical Alley, the state’s influential trade association.
In 2007, Minnesota ranked third nationally in the number of U.S. patents issued per capita, a strong indicator of available talent and commitment to research. Minnesota’s high-tech success comes from several factors, not the least of which is the highly educated workforce. Another advantage Minnesota has is that unlike other high-tech hotspots, such as the Silicon Valley, there is a very low employee turnover because people who come to Minnesota generally want to stay. The state has recently begun a push to make Minnesota a leader in biotechnology.
Food processing remains an important part of the manufacturing sector with meatpacking, dairy products, and sugar-refining all major contributors. Relatively little milling takes place in Minnesota today, though many of the leading companies such as Cargill and General Mills remain headquartered in the Twin Cities. On the marketing end, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Jolly Green Giant, and Betty Crocker all hail from Minnesota.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition