Results of a newly released MnDOT research report shed new light on the role transportation plays in our state’s economic competitiveness, and highlight the unique challenges faced by some of the state’s major industry clusters.
The report, authored by Professor Lee Munnich of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, underscores the importance of a reliable transportation system in facilitating economic growth. Munnich examined the impact of transportation on Minnesota’s competitive industry clusters — geographically concentrated, interconnected groups of companies and institutions that share knowledge networks, supply chains and specialized labor pools.
MnDOT Research Project Engineer Bruce Holdhusen said MnDOT’s goal with the study was to discover how its investment decisions could help support job creation and economic prosperity.
“The idea is to look at the companies and industries that are already bringing money into the state, figure out what their transportation challenges are, and then use that information to see what kind of investments we could make to support their continued growth,” Holdhusen said.
MnDOT is incorporating the results of the study into its statewide freight planning. The industry clusters-approach also is being used by MnDOT in a statewide effort to talk with manufacturers, other shippers, and carriers about their transportation priorities and challenges. MnDOT will focus on its Metro District starting this summer. Two similar projects have been undertaken in Greater Minnesota, with a third study starting later this year. (Results from one study, in southwest Minnesota/District 8, are available online.)
The full report is available online, and examines a wide range of industries, including forest products, medical devices, robotics and processed foods. We’ve pulled out a few interesting tidbits below.
Recreational Vehicles (Northwest Minnesota)
As noted in the report, Minnesota’s extreme winter weather poses unique challenges to its economic competitiveness. Ironically, nowhere is this more evident than in the state’s snowmobile-producing northwest corner.
Polaris and Arctic Cat (together with smaller, more specialized firms like Mattracks) employ thousands of Minnesotans, producing a wide variety of recreational vehicles and accessories that are sold and distributed all over the world. While the companies’ snowmobiles might fare well in a blizzard, the trucks that deliver them don’t. A bad snowstorm can cause delays in both supply and product shipments; it can also prevent employees from getting to work, or even shut down a plant altogether. On a larger scale, these issues make it difficult for the companies to expand at their ideal rates.
The report notes that MnDOT’s 511 system is an important source for many companies to identify and respond to potential shipping delays. It recommends continuous improvements to the system.
The Mayo Clinic (Rochester Area)
The Mayo Clinic has become synonymous with the Rochester metropolitan area, and for good reason: it employs 37,000 residents and brings in 500,000 unique patients each year from all 50 U.S. states and 150 countries. As you might imagine, generating that much activity in a community of only 110,000 people creates some unique and significant transportation challenges.
Unlike most competitor institutions (Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, for example), the Mayo clinic is located in a relatively small metropolitan area. The local airport has an older navigation system and offers less direct commercial air service. As a result, it depends on high-quality transit and freight service to help accommodate the constant flow of visitors and supplies. The shipping of highly perishable lab samples is also a challenge, as air carriers have limited capacity for refrigeration. Finally, adverse weather conditions can affect emergency services dispatchers’ ability to send fast modes of transportation such as helicopters.
Hospitality and Tourism (Brainerd Lakes Area)
The oil boom in North Dakota has generated a lot of wealth in a short amount of time, and resorts like the Grand View Lodge in Nisswa would love to capture some of it by enticing new vacationers from the west. The trouble is, the area is inconvenient to reach from that direction.
A four-lane highway makes it easy for visitors from St. Cloud or the Twin Cities to visit resorts in the Brainerd area, but travelers coming from the Dakotas face a more circuitous route. Air travel options help to an extent, as visitors from even farther distances can fly into Fargo and then drive in from there. St. Cloud also has daily air service from Chicago, which helps maintain a constant flow of visitors.