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The Best Cities in Minnesota for Young Families

Oct. 7, 2013
The Best Cities in Minnesota for Young Families
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Minnesota is known for its natural beauty, so much that its nickname is the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Families who settle down here enjoy the diverse landscape as well as a healthy job market and good schools for their kids.

We wanted to identify the best communities in the state for young families, so we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across Minnesota:

  1. Does the city have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This non-profit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a 1 to 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at both median home values in each city and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  3. Is the city growing and prospering? We assessed a city’s economy by looking at median household income and income growth over the last decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.


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The Best Cities for Young Families

1. Waconia

Waconia is about 35 miles west of the Twin Cities, and it has developed tremendously in the last decade. From 1999 to 2011, the median income grew by 43.2 percent – significantly higher than that of any other town in the state. Residents also enjoy Lake Waconia, the second largest lake in the metro area, which offers opportunities to fish, water ski, sail and swim.

2. North Mankato

North Mankato is about 80 miles southwest of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Just two months ago, Forbes named Mankato the 10th best small place for business and careers. More than a good job market, Mankato boasts affordable homes, with a low median home price of $167,100.

3. Sartell

Sartell is in the St. Cloud metro area, and it has grown substantially in the last few decades. From 1980 to 2010, its population nearly tripled. Minnesotans come to the area in part for its recreational spaces: Sartell is home to dozens of parks and 48 miles of trails.

4. Woodbury

Woodbury is a quickly growing suburb of the Twin Cities, so much that it is now the 10th largest city in the state. Over 50 percent of residents over the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree. The schools, too, are excelling; on the statewide standardized test, the MCAs, students have outperformed the state average on every subject and at every grade level.

5. Stillwater

Stillwater is a suburb of the Twin Cities, and it sits on the bluffs of the St. Croix River. Stillwater Area High School boasts a 96 percent graduation rate – about eight points higher than the state average.

6. Prior Lake

Prior Lake is 27 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The city and the area in general, too, have maintained a low unemployment rate. Scott County’s is 4.7 percent, about half a point lower than the state average. Prior Lake also boasts 1,000 acres of parks, 100 miles of trails and 14 lakes.

7. Rosemount

Rosemount is about 15 miles south of the Twin Cities. The community has blown up in recent years, having seen 50 percent growth in population from 2000 to 2010. The schools in the area are excellent, too. On the ACT, District 196 outperformed the state average by a full point – and Minnesota already leads the nation on the test.

8. St. Michael

St. Michael is centrally located, between Minneapolis and St. Cloud. It boasts the lowest tax rates of any other city in Wright County. Students here do well, too, having outperformed both the state and the national averages on the ACT; in math, in particular, students did well, with an average score nearly four points higher than the national average.

9. Savage

Savage sits on the south bank of the Minnesota River, just south of Minneapolis. Earlier this year, it ranked #21 on CNNMoney’s list of the Best Places to Live in the United States. The larger area, Scott County, is the fastest growing county in the state, with a 45 percent uptick in population between 2000 and 2010.

10. Shakopee

Shakopee is about 25 miles southwest of Minneapolis, and it is home to some of the biggest attractions in the state, including the Valleyfair Amusement Park and the Canterbury Park Racetrack. Quite a few Minnesotans have moved to the area in recent years, too. From 2000 to 2010, the population grew by 80.3 percent – more than 10 times the rate of the state.

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Waconia Minneapolis, St. Paul 9 $241,600 $1,882 $79,760 43.2% 79.9
2 North Mankato Mankato 9 $167,100 $1,411 $62,708 28.5% 75.3
3 Sartell St. Cloud 9 $187,500 $1,555 $66,650 26.9% 74.0
4 Woodbury Minneapolis, St. Paul 9 $281,100 $1,935 $92,780 21.9% 71.6
5 Stillwater Minneapolis, St. Paul 9 $259,200 $1,795 $70,131 22.7% 70.4
6 Prior Lake Minneapolis, St. Paul 9 $286,200 $1,977 $89,805 19.2% 69.8
7 Rosemount Minneapolis, St. Paul 8 $247,500 $1,909 $84,395 28.0% 69.2
8 St. Michael St. Cloud, Minneapolis, St. Paul 8 $247,200 $1,915 $86,163 23.3% 67.3
9 Savage Minneapolis, St. Paul 8 $270,700 $1,963 $91,361 21.7% 66.6
10 Shakopee Minneapolis, St. Paul 7 $228,400 $1,789 $78,028 31.9% 66.2


The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

94 Minnesota cities and areas designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 10,000 were considered.

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