Best Cities for Young Families in Minnesota

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best cities for young families in Minnesota

Minneapolis may be the urban heart of Minnesota, but young families looking to move may connect better with cities along Interstate 94.

In an analysis of the most affordable and family-friendly cities in Minnesota, NerdWallet found that nearly half of the top 20 are located along I-94, with enviable access to the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Residents here can also expect strong growth and upgraded infrastructure after a just completed $17 million project to accommodate more traffic in and out of Minneapolis from those northwestern cities.

NerdWallet’s analysis

We looked at three factors that drive one of the biggest decisions in life: Where should I raise my family?

Public school excellence. For school quality, we gathered GreatSchools data, which compares students’ test scores and other statewide data and ranks schools on a 1-10 scale, with 10 the highest.
Home affordability. Using U.S. Census Bureau data, we weighed median home values and monthly homeownership costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Places with more affordable homes had higher scores.
Growth and prosperity. We assessed a place’s economy using census figures that detailed median household incomes from 2012, and long-term income growth since 1999.

Key trends and takeaways

Suburbs and more are growing. Cities far away from Minneapolis are thriving, too, thanks to commercial and residential growth.

Housing costs are reasonable. None of the top 20 cities had median home values more than $100,000 higher than the state median of $194,300.

Cities are updating downtowns. Several cities created comprehensive plans to account for future housing and businesses, including improvements to downtowns.

NerdWallet crunched the data for 88 places in Minnesota — cities, towns and census-designated places. Only places with over 10,000 residents were analyzed. To see the full data set, click here.

Best cities for young families in Minnesota

1. Monticello

Along both the Mississippi River and Highway 94, Monticello is within reach of beautiful scenery and the urban metropolis. The income growth from 1999 to 2012 surged 52.4% after an influx of retail and light industry, including the award-winning Cargill Kitchen Solutions. The school district, ranked highly at GreatSchools, offers a variety of programs such as business and industrial technology courses at Monticello High School. To meet the needs of its active community, the city hosts cultural events all year long at various parks.

2. Waconia

This city just below Lake Waconia offers rich recreational choices — from summer water skiing to winter ice fishing — as well as quality schools. As a suburb of Minneapolis, the city witnessed a rise in population and income growth over the past decade, which led to more retail and business expansion. Waconia’s attractions include wineries and a downtown that is close to the lake. The Carver County Fair comes to town every August.

3. Ham Lake

Located close to Anoka’s metro transit line into Minneapolis, Ham Lake balances cosmopolitan access with a rural vibe. Because of its rich location, housing costs are higher than most places on our list. The area is part of the state’s largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin, where students’ test scores are higher than the state average. For recreation, a series of parks dot the landscape as well as the Majestic Oaks Golf Club and several lakes, including Coon Lake to the north.

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4. Lakeville

The residential community in Lakeville continues to grow year over year and the median income for the area is growing as well. Its independent school district rivals those of other metro areas, where high student test scores are supported by a comprehensive curriculum. In addition to its location less than a half-hour drive from the heart of Minneapolis, Lakeville has extensive plans for improving its downtown to integrate parks with the retail and commercial core as well as to create more parking and walking trails.

5. Alexandria

Located on the western prairie of Minnesota along Highway 94, Alexandria offers some of the most affordable homes of our top cities, with a median home value in 2012 of $153,500. The city stands as the county seat of Douglas County, which is between Fargo, North Dakota, and Minneapolis, and the area also lies along the Central Lakes State Trail, a 55-mile long paved recreational trail that passes through several cities. In addition to quality public schools, Alexandria is working to make the downtown more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, too.

6. North Mankato

In addition to strong schools, North Mankato also is home to affordable housing. Not only are home values lower than the state median of $194,300, the city also partners with the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to help first-time homebuyers. For home improvements, the city works with a community grant program to help homeowners with updates. Three highways intersect near North Mankato, and this city features several parks, soccer fields and nearby destinations such as the beautiful Minnesota River and Lake Washington.

7. Sartell

From its roots as a small town on the Mississippi River, Sartell has blossomed into a city with thriving schools and strong community support. Education can start as early as birth here, and the Sartell-St. Stephen School District offers a comprehensive and rigorous curriculum. To fund new academic programs, the district receives support from a robust public foundation. Part of the growth in town is connected to a series of trails that integrate parks and other areas in the community.

8. Woodbury

The Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury had a school before it was a town, according to the city’s website. With a GreatSchools rating of 9 out of 10, Woodbury still is known for the quality of its education. As one of the 10 largest cities in Minnesota, Woodbury plans to bring in new economic and residential development in a strategic fashion. The city recently spent $2.1 million to remodel and expand the Bielenberg Sports Center to accommodate professional sports and to provide playgrounds for disabled children.

9. Andover

Andover shares the same ZIP code as Ham Lake and also some of the excellent schools in the area. Andover High School boasts an award-winning music program, along with several other arts programs in a district where a well-rounded education is part of the focus. Andover continues to grow with new family-housing units and updated streets and parks, such as Rose Park, and a sports complex in Pine Hills North. Residents here connect with each other at meeting areas in the Community Center.

10. Farmington

Long-term growth is evident in Farmington. The suburb witnessed a 37.5% increase in income growth from 1999 to 2012. Even though it’s not located on a primary transportation corridor, such as Interstate 35, the city is strategic when it comes to bringing business to the area and planning where those companies will be located. In addition to its wide expanse of trails and parkland, Farmington is part of Minnesota’s GreenStep Cities, a community-based incentive to create sustainable cities.

Best cities for young families in Minnesota

Check out this interactive map of our top 10 cities for young families in Minnesota. Click on each icon to see the place’s overall score.

 

nerdwallet

City GreatSchools rating Median home value in 2012 Median monthly homeownership costs Median household income in 2012 Median income growth from 1999 to 2012 Score
1 Monticello 8 171,300 1,595 69,156 52.38% 72.09
2 Waconia 9 241,600 1,889 80,224 44.02% 68.56
3 Ham Lake 9 270,100 1,898 90,898 34.17% 65.98
4 Lakeville 9 251,800 1,934 92,989 28.43% 65.15
5 Alexandria 8 153,500 1,150 36,211 34.86% 65.10
6 North Mankato 8 166,500 1,416 60,836 24.62% 63.37
7 Sartell 8 181,700 1,533 66,473 26.54% 63.04
8 Woodbury 9 271,200 1,931 94,506 24.17% 63.02
9 Andover 9 242,300 1,835 89,246 17.06% 62.22
10 Farmington 7 210,100 1,827 85,051 37.48% 61.63
11 Maple Grove 8 249,300 1,826 94,450 24.10% 61.28
12 Rogers 8 269,900 1,964 96,053 31.32% 61.26
13 Lino Lakes 8 269,300 1,971 98,195 29.70% 61.16
14 Grand Rapids 6 142,100 1,216 41,157 41.96% 60.10
15 Rosemount 8 239,100 1,892 84,325 27.93% 60.07
16 St. Michael 8 240,700 1,893 87,809 25.62% 59.98
17 Fergus Falls 6 114,700 1,090 41,080 30.60% 59.32
18 Shakopee 7 217,800 1,778 78,713 33.10% 58.90
19 Fairmont 6 109,700 992 41,725 23.78% 58.63
20 Moorhead 6 151,500 1,301 47,074 35.34% 57.70

Methodology

The score for each place is from the following data:

  1. Public schools made up 33.3% of the score. We used data from GreatSchools.org, which the nonprofit calculates by averaging the overall rating for each school in the city.
  2. Median home values were 16.7% of the score. The information is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 ACS.
  3. Monthly homeowner costs were 16.7% of the score. The figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 ACS.
  4. Median household incomes were 16.7% of the score. We used the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 ACS.
  5. Income change from 1999 to 2012 was 16.7% of the score. The information is from the U.S. Census Bureau.

NerdWallet crunched the data for 88 places — cities, towns and census-designated places — in Minnesota. Only places with over 10,000 residents were analyzed. We excluded areas that lacked GreatSchools ratings, median household incomes from 1999 or median home values from 2012.

Best cities for young families in Minnesota (full rankings)

City GreatSchools rating Median home value in 2012 Median monthly homeownership costs Median household income in 2012 Median income growth from 1999 to 2012 Score
1 Monticello 8 171,300 1,595 69,156 52.38% 72.09
2 Waconia 9 241,600 1,889 80,224 44.02% 68.56
3 Ham Lake 9 270,100 1,898 90,898 34.17% 65.98
4 Lakeville 9 251,800 1,934 92,989 28.43% 65.15
5 Alexandria 8 153,500 1,150 36,211 34.86% 65.10
6 North Mankato 8 166,500 1,416 60,836 24.62% 63.37
7 Sartell 8 181,700 1,533 66,473 26.54% 63.04
8 Woodbury 9 271,200 1,931 94,506 24.17% 63.02
9 Andover 9 242,300 1,835 89,246 17.06% 62.22
10 Farmington 7 210,100 1,827 85,051 37.48% 61.63
11 Maple Grove 8 249,300 1,826 94,450 24.10% 61.28
12 Rogers 8 269,900 1,964 96,053 31.32% 61.26
13 Lino Lakes 8 269,300 1,971 98,195 29.70% 61.16
14 Grand Rapids 6 142,100 1,216 41,157 41.96% 60.10
15 Rosemount 8 239,100 1,892 84,325 27.93% 60.07
16 St. Michael 8 240,700 1,893 87,809 25.62% 59.98
17 Fergus Falls 6 114,700 1,090 41,080 30.60% 59.32
18 Shakopee 7 217,800 1,778 78,713 33.10% 58.90
19 Fairmont 6 109,700 992 41,725 23.78% 58.63
20 Moorhead 6 151,500 1,301 47,074 35.34% 57.70
21 Elk River 8 210,400 1,858 71,595 23.20% 57.65
22 Cottage Grove 7 217,000 1,732 82,107 24.74% 57.47
23 Brainerd 8 117,100 1,103 29,255 8.75% 57.44
24 Savage 8 259,300 1,953 90,916 21.06% 57.42
25 Rochester 6 165,300 1,409 63,490 29.33% 57.34
26 Champlin 7 217,200 1,724 81,679 24.07% 57.23
27 Blaine 7 198,200 1,661 72,925 23.14% 56.76
28 Sauk Rapids 7 154,000 1,359 53,972 17.70% 56.72
29 Eagan 8 249,800 1,768 79,639 18.18% 56.64
30 Forest Lake 6 247,700 1,787 67,133 51.14% 56.35
31 Cloquet 6 139,200 1,269 45,919 28.71% 56.30
32 Chanhassen 9 348,100 2,271 103,462 22.85% 56.29
33 Hutchinson 7 146,700 1,371 49,981 18.22% 56.27
34 Prior Lake 8 275,500 1,975 90,867 20.57% 56.08
35 Buffalo 7 177,200 1,649 61,721 24.51% 56.01
36 Mankato 7 153,100 1,261 40,869 20.36% 55.87
37 Apple Valley 8 224,900 1,707 77,193 10.67% 55.70
38 Ramsey 7 220,800 1,760 83,011 20.33% 55.66
39 Stillwater 8 249,300 1,800 69,937 22.37% 55.50
40 New Ulm 7 123,300 1,131 43,245 7.99% 55.49
41 Big Lake 6 171,600 1,641 66,340 30.96% 55.44
42 Owatonna 6 155,300 1,350 56,494 23.73% 55.16
43 Red Wing 7 166,500 1,414 51,290 17.44% 54.69
44 Plymouth 9 298,200 2,052 86,730 12.62% 54.50
45 White Bear Lake 8 205,400 1,529 58,161 9.87% 54.35
46 Chaska 8 238,000 1,880 71,576 18.65% 54.33
47 Hastings 7 192,800 1,571 62,922 18.40% 54.30
48 Edina 10 390,000 2,378 84,251 27.62% 54.12
49 Otsego 6 195,300 1,704 72,867 26.90% 53.49
50 Mendota Heights 8 356,500 2,097 100,506 23.84% 53.36
51 Anoka 7 183,800 1,504 51,057 19.69% 53.36
52 Duluth 6 148,600 1,221 41,311 22.34% 53.19
53 Eden Prairie 8 311,800 2,107 93,828 19.79% 52.90
54 Winona 6 144,500 1,167 37,519 14.23% 50.50
55 Oakdale 6 202,900 1,595 66,785 18.63% 50.23
56 Albert Lea 5 92,100 963 36,276 10.46% 50.14
57 Vadnais Heights 6 221,400 1,535 70,838 16.50% 50.10
58 Roseville 7 227,600 1,645 59,416 16.37% 50.02
59 Northfield 7 211,800 1,740 58,594 17.25% 49.89
60 Bemidji 5 121,100 1,055 33,447 19.15% 49.68
61 Coon Rapids 6 182,700 1,575 63,628 14.54% 49.53
62 Minnetonka 8 296,400 1,962 78,391 12.02% 49.42
63 Marshall 6 150,000 1,243 42,266 11.37% 49.42
64 St. Louis Park 6 238,300 1,812 64,300 30.53% 49.09
65 New Brighton 7 223,500 1,731 60,083 13.67% 48.49
66 Golden Valley 6 268,000 1,890 78,183 25.97% 48.12
67 Austin 4 92,300 998 39,155 16.01% 48.04
68 South St. Paul 5 179,600 1,483 55,550 22.85% 47.57
69 Bloomington 7 227,800 1,701 59,969 9.78% 47.28
70 Faribault 4 153,500 1,316 51,559 26.17% 47.03
71 Mounds View 6 193,100 1,596 58,067 11.72% 46.51
72 Worthington 3 111,800 1,064 44,953 24.01% 45.97
73 Inver Grove Heights 6 219,600 1,705 65,311 10.53% 44.97
74 Crystal 4 175,900 1,541 60,259 23.64% 44.24
75 Willmar 3 133,200 1,126 40,417 20.81% 41.96
76 Burnsville 5 219,800 1,655 64,561 11.38% 41.50
77 Maplewood 5 203,200 1,671 57,822 12.07% 40.96
78 Hopkins 5 216,600 1,678 47,065 20.05% 40.36
79 St. Cloud 4 151,800 1,279 41,536 11.22% 40.34
80 West St. Paul 5 193,700 1,498 45,315 10.25% 40.11
81 Columbia Heights 3 165,300 1,400 50,041 23.37% 39.95
82 St. Paul 4 188,100 1,550 46,305 19.42% 38.92
83 Fridley 4 187,300 1,483 52,486 8.50% 37.51
84 North St. Paul 5 196,700 1,620 52,073 2.26% 37.37
85 Minneapolis 3 216,800 1,691 48,881 28.72% 35.16
86 Richfield 3 201,000 1,570 52,447 15.22% 33.78
87 Brooklyn Park 3 201,400 1,733 60,170 6.36% 30.62
88 Brooklyn Center 2 153,400 1,424 48,010 7.72% 30.50

 

Minneapolis, Minnesota, skyline from Interstate 94 image via Shutterstock.