How to make the Twin Cities the best region in America

The good life in Minnesota: A 12-step plan to greatness in the Midwest

The point is: Things will break. Already, Minnesota is a national leader in catastrophic insurance losses. According to the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, home insurance rates are up 267 percent since 1997. And that's just the beginning.

"We built the Twin Cities on climate assumptions that were in place 50 or 100 years ago and no longer apply today," says Huttner.

We have to rethink the way we build and maintain our region, agrees Abraham. "We need to lower the economic cost as climate change happens. We can't stop it, but we can become more resilient."

6. Use and generate energy wisely

The good news is that a lot of the things we're doing already — more public transit and higher density — will also prepare us for our new climate, says J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at the St. Paul-based advocacy group Fresh Energy.

The state of Minnesota aims to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2025. The Twin Cities are planning accordingly. The first item on the agenda is designing energy-efficient new buildings and retrofitting existing homes and commercial inventory.

"That should be the first thing that we do," agrees Maggie Koerth-Baker, the Minneapolis-based science editor at Boing Boing and author of the recent book Before the Lights Go Out — Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us. "If you look at where the majority of our emissions come from — it's from electricity generation. The majority of that is waste in buildings. So the biggest thing we need to look at is reducing the amount of energy it takes to power our buildings."

A major energy-efficiency push would be good for everybody's bottom line, says Drake Hamilton. "When we make our buildings more livable for more people, we are going to be creating jobs and improving everybody's quality of life."

At the same time, we need to get ourselves into the clean-energy-generating game. To Drake Hamilton, "community solar gardens" are a big part of the solution.

To make up for the fact that not everybody has the right kind of roof — or income — for solar panels, the Legislature opened the door last year for people to buy a share in neighborhood solar parks that could be located on the flat, unobstructed roofs of commercial buildings. At the end of the month, your utility credits you for the power your slice of the neighborhood solar park has generated.

To make renewable energy work, we must also rebuild the power grid, Koerth-Baker says. "That's not just good for building a hippie utopia, but it's also good resiliency during disasters."

Dense cities are also energy-efficient.

"If you want sustainability, you also have to have density. And density doesn't necessarily mean we have to look like Hong Kong. We shouldn't get into this false dichotomy that says we either have to live in a quaint little village, or we have look like downtown, and there's nothing in between. We really need to find ways to make that acceptable to people, because if you don't do that, you're not sustainable."

7. Get the jobs done

What do we do to keep our economy bubbling? We double down on our strengths, says Michael Langley, the CEO of Greater MSP, otherwise known as the Minneapolis Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership.

"Human talent is going to be our secret weapon for the future. We have a strong economy because we have a very strong workforce. Smart people attract really good businesses, and good businesses attract more smart people," he says.

The Twin Cities has 19 Fortune 500 headquarters, boasts Langley. The area is a global player in three key sectors: food, healthcare, and, less well-known, water technology, which, according to Greater MSP, employs 12,000 people in the Twin Cities — more than anywhere else in the U.S.

Water technology will be an increasingly important international asset, says Rybak. As global warming becomes an ever more pressing condition, water will be more vital around the world. Local companies such as Pentair, 3M, Ecolab, and Osmonics, which was recently acquired by GE, are promising to make water management MSP's newest growth engine.

Africa, which is perpetually dealing with scarce or contaminated water, could become a major market for local players. "China is dominating Africa, but the solution for the United States is called Minneapolis-St. Paul, where we have a part of the population connected directly to Africa," he says.

Writer and community activist Nimo Farah, who came to Minnesota as a refugee from the Somali civil war in 1994, is all for it, as long as forays into Africa are undertaken with the good of the local populations in mind.

"Of course there are opportunities because of globalization and because of all these connections that we have," she says. "That's the case for Somalia, too. Although it's a war-torn country, there are many opportunities. There are a lot of people that are returning and taking advantage of those opportunities."

8. Promote the hell out of the place

The only three things people elsewhere think they know about Minnesota are that it's freezing cold nine months out of the year, Prince lives here, and it's the setting for the movie Fargo. To make matters worse, Fargo just came back as a TV series on FX to mock us. It might not be the easiest task to advertise the biggest metro in the state to the rest of the world. Or is it?

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