You’ll often hear people say the Northland is a “well-kept secret.”
Sure, Northeast Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin are unbelievably beautiful. The towns and cities surrounding Lake Superior are nestled among dense forests and secluded lakes. Many, many people would give an arm and a leg to live here. What stops them?
Oh, yeah — the winters!
There’s no glossing over it. Winter can be rough. Some years, the snowy season lasts closer to six months than the typical three you’ll find marked on your calendar. And it’s not unusual for temps to drop into the negative double digits in January and February.
You could say that enduring the elements qualifies as a high-intensity sport, around here.
That’s especially true anywhere in the vicinity of the titanic force of nature called Lake Superior. The greatest of the Great Lakes is known for creating microclimates that defy all known conventions of meteorology.
So there’s the climate. And then there’s the economy.
According to data from Northland Connection, average household income is $75.5K across all ten Northland counties in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin, compared to a $92K national average. That said, the cost of living in the Northland is also statistically lower than the rest of the nation.
Who’s to say whether one place is more desirable than another? Well, there’s no consensus, but US News runs an interactive platform called Best States which recently found that out of the 50 United States, Minnesota ranks 2nd for highest quality of life, and Wisconsin ranks 8th.
“On what grounds?” you might ask! We asked the same thing. The Best States platform evaluates a bunch of different factors, including:
- Fiscal stability
- Crime and corrections
- Natural environment
Thanks for the cool writeup, US News. Let’s explore the local perspective on these findings.
The top 10 reasons to live in the Northland
1. The great outdoors
Whether you’re in the Twin Ports region, on the Iron Range, or along the north or south shores of Lake Superior, you can’t escape the stunning beauty of this area.
We’ve already gone on at length about the horrible weather. Well, the truth is that even the worst stretches of weather tend to get balanced out by the unbelievably gorgeous spells. Plus, we get all four seasons here. It’s so picturesque, most of the time you feel like you’re walking around in a movie set. (And maybe you are!) To get out and explore, look to tons of parks, campgrounds, and award-winning trails.
With average snowfalls of about 70 inches per year, you can imagine why hockey and other winter sports like skiing and ice fishing are so popular up here. While winter is the season that defines this part of the world, the summers are every bit as wondrous, when options abound for camping, kayaking, and other outdoors fun.
2. Clean air and fresh water
The best part about those two or three (okay, more than that) beautiful days we get each year? You can soak up the sun, take a deep breath, and hey! No pollution stinging your lungs. No toxic haze clouding the horizon.
“You won’t believe your eyes. The air is so pure there,” is how Bob Dylan (born in Duluth and raised in Hibbing) described the Northland in a Rolling Stone interview. The Bard of Port Byron wasn’t just speaking figuratively: Air and water quality studies indicate Minnesota and Wisconsin have fewer toxins than the rest of the U.S. on average.
Which brings us back to our favorite topic: facing the elements.
3. Low risk of natural disasters
Sure, the weather is unpredictable and frequently a force to be reckoned with. It’s not for everybody. It’s for the stout of heart and those who relish waking up in the morning without knowing what sort of adventure the day has in store — whether a morning squall or a breathtaking sunset.
We take it as it comes because we can count on a very low likelihood of natural disasters. Tornados are extremely rare. Earthquakes are unheard of (despite major fault lines and two continental divides that run under Minnesota and Wisconsin). Hurricanes lose steam before they make it this far north.
4. Health care
The Declaration of Independence grants us the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Northland also unofficially adds the freedom to not worry about your health as a fourth inalienable right.
State-of-the-art hospital and clinic systems throw a safety net over this region, where doctor-to-patient ratios are more reasonable than you’ll find most other places. Close proximity to world-renowned institutes (like the Mayo Clinic) is also comforting.
Apart from high levels of peace of mind, Minnesota also boasts the second-highest life expectancy in the United States (80.9 years on average) while in Wisconsin, only 8.1% of the population is uninsured.
There are lots of great options for colleges, universities, and tech schools in the Northland. Additionally, apprenticeships offer an avenue to careers in the skilled trades. From carpenters and electricians to plumbers and bricklayers, the trades are in huge demand across the Northland right now.
6. Grants and other funding sources
A Brookings study on heartland economy found a “near complete dearth” of venture capital investment outside of Chicago. “We had to look at those numbers twice,” said Brookings Senior Research Analyst Robert Maxim at the time. “We didn’t believe it.”
If there is a funding vacuum from external sources, it’s filled by constellations of community organizations that provide grants, scholarships, and other funding options for artists, entrepreneurs, and anyone looking to continue their education or broaden their horizons.
Lots of great internship programs like SciTech strengthen this grassroots approach to community building. On the other side of the equation, employers have access to not one but several gigantic pots of money reserved each year to support hiring and training efforts.
7. Heartland economy
Zooming out from the Northland, let’s look for a moment at the “Heartland” — roughly defined as the 19-state region that stretches from Alabama and Louisiana in the south, to North Dakota and South Dakota in the north, and right across from Oklahoma to Ohio.
Believe it or not, this often overlooked “flyover territory” would be the world’s fourth-largest economy if it were an independent nation. That’s right: slightly bigger than the economy of Germany (aka, the Economic Heavyweight of Europe).
Minnesota has also ranked first in America with the highest five-year business survival rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As DEED Commissioner Steve Grove commented, “This ranking confirms something we know to be true — people who start things in Minnesota tend to stick to it. It’s part of that Minnesota work ethic that we’re known for.”
8. Niche industries
Maybe we should officially change the catchphrase “Minnesota Nice” to “Northland Niche.” Okay, it’s not as catchy. But it’s accurate!
The Northland is home to growing aviation and IT industries, in addition to traditional mainstays that include shipping and transport, timber products, and mining. In both Minnesota and Wisconsin, niche industries like these keep the economy diversified and full of variety.
If you can dream it, you can probably do it up north.
9. Safety and security
There aren’t too many places where you’re 10 minutes from both your workplace and the wilderness, but that’s true for much of the Northland. You can thank reliable infrastructure that seamlessly intertwine highways, railroads, shipping routes, and air transport.
Additionally, crime and poverty rates are low in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, along with incarceration rates and violent crime rates. And keep in mind, these “Best States” stats are for all of Minnesota and Wisconsin. In the northern parts of the states, the numbers are even lower.
10. DEI efforts
Demographics are changing fast in the Northland and there is an ecosystem of individuals and groups working together to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion on multiple fronts: racial and cultural equity, gender equity, age equity, and more.
Networking and trying to meet new people in the northwoods can be nerve wracking. The same could be said for pretty much anyplace, anytime. But it takes a special type of motivation to put yourself out there in windchill conditions colder than Antarctica and Mars. Yes that’s right, Mars. The other planet known for its flourishing lifeforms and rad indie music scene.
Despite the sub-galactic temperatures, chambers of commerce are a great starting point for networking opportunities. There are also annual festivals and community gatherings year around. Keep an eye on city-specific event boards, as well as our events page.