Why don't young professionals ever want to leave Minnesota?

The Twin Cities lead the nation in retaining young professionals.

The Twin Cities lead the nation in retaining young professionals.

When Maggie Tomas told all her friends and family back in Los Angeles that she would be moving to the Twin Cities with her new made-in-Minnesota husband, people questioned her sanity. The first year was undeniably tough, Tomas says. It was the winter the Metrodome collapsed under 17 inches of snow, a shock to somebody who was used to wearing flip flops year-round. She also thought it was a hard place to make friends. 

"I was afraid that it wouldn't have a cool factor. I felt like I was leaving the center of where everything happened," Tomas says. "And I was so pleasantly surprised. Once I got plugged in at work, once I realized every winter is not like this, once my kids learned to love winter too, that it could be fun, it was okay." 

Tomas is the director of the graduate career center at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Business. Her job is to sell Minnesota to bright prospective students from all over the world — a tough pitch at times. People are always terrified of the cold. Some get stuck on that fear. Others sit up and listen when she mentions the fraternity of Fortune 500 companies headquartered here, the growing startup scene, the ripe real estate market and competitive school system, in case anyone's feeling fertile. 

At 27, the typical graduate student probably does have all that in the back of their minds, Tomas says. She recently followed up with a 2014 graduate whose dream had been to work a couple years in the Twin Cities, then use that as a stepping stone to move to Seattle, a city with a sexier reputation. The student said that plan was on hold. She'd made such strong friends at the U that they're all starting to have kids, and the children are becoming friends.

"There's something about the community. It slowly grows on you," Tomas says. "At first it's a shock, it's different, it can be a hard place to fit in. And then all of a sudden it's hard to think about leaving."

About 70 percent of students who graduate from Carlson stay in Minnesota, Tomas says. On the undergraduate side, it's even higher. 

Across the state, the Twin Cities have a better retention rate for young professionals than any of the 25 largest U.S. metros, U of M researcher Professor Myles Shaver discovered. But his census crunching also showed that MSP only ranks 19th out of those 25 in attracting fresh talent to the region. 

"That's not a surprise. That's a story we tell ourselves, that people who come here want to stay here," says Peter Frosch, a strategist for the booster group Greater MSP. "The fundamental issue is we need to do a better job in MSP of reaching out to talented people across the country and the world about why those of us who are here stay."

In a social media survey of more than 1,100 respondents aged 18-39, Greater MSP found that the single most important factor anchoring folks to the Twin Cities was the job market. For quality of life, most answered that outdoor recreation was what this region did best. There may be tech jobs in California and financial ones in New York, but none of those places have the sort of pristine wilderness available just a stone's throw from the Twin Cities. 

The Twin Cities needs to put aside its instinct humility and brag a little, Frosch says. It's imperative, actually. Data suggests that Minneapolis-St. Paul could be 100,000 skilled workers short by 2020 as the native workforce ages. 

"This is going to be a challenge because we're looking at our demographics. This isn't a guess, it's going to happen," Frosch says. "We came out from the recession strong, and we quickly went from not enough jobs to not enough skilled workers. We've never see that before. That's the first time in modern Minnesota. The bottom line is, not enough people know what's here."