Minnesota’s Iron Range Has Low Cost of Living

Northeast Minnesota, home to the Iron Range is an affordable place to live. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) provides data on the costs of basic needs by family type for counties and regions. These data show that Northeast Minnesota as well as Itasca and St. Louis counties – the two counties encompassing the bulk of the Mesabi Range – have lower costs of living than the rest of the state.

Family Type Area Yearly Cost Hourly Wage Required Child Care Food Healthcare Housing Transportation Other Taxes
Single, No Children Itasca County $28,932 $13.91 $0 $330 $166 $586 $743 $257 $329
St. Louis County $28,860 $13.88 $0 $330 $166 $676 $633 $282 $318
Northeast Minnesota $28,860 $13.88 $0 $330 $166 $650 $663 $275 $321
Minnesota $31,392 $15.09 $0 $336 $157 $798 $653 $318 $354
Typical Family: 2 Adults
(1 Full-Time, 1 Part-Time Worker), 1 Child
Itasca County $50,256 $16.11 $255 $754 $659 $790 $867 $433 $430
St. Louis County $51,084 $16.37 $320 $756 $659 $887 $730 $460 $445
Northeast Minnesota $50,784 $16.28 $307 $755 $659 $854 $767 $451 $439
Minnesota $56,772 $18.20 $516 $769 $593 $1,033 $755 $505 $560
Source: DEED Cost of Living Tool

The monthly cost of child care for family of two working adults with one child in the Northeast region is more than 40% lower than the statewide estimate. Similarly, monthly housing costs for single adults are just over 80% that of all single Minnesotans and just under 83% for typical families. Taxes, food, and other costs are also typically lower in and around the Range (see Table 1).


Wage Data for Northeast Minnesota, 2018-2019

Area 2019 Median Hourly Wage 2018 Annual Median Family Income
Itasca County n/a $64,995
St. Louis County n/a $73,066
Northeast Minnesota $18.57 $70,368
Minnesota $20.95 $86,204
Source: DEED Cost of Living Tool, U.S. Census American Community Survey 2014-2018 5-Year Estimates

Typical wages earned by workers further highlight the region’s affordability. In 2019, the median worker in Northeast Minnesota earned a wage of $18.57 an hour or $38,522 a year. This wage equates to almost $10,000 a year more than the yearly basic-needs cost of living for a single adult residing in the area. This gap is even greater when looking at family income. The typical family in Northeast Minnesota can cover the estimate costs of their basic needs with about $20,000 to spare (see Table 2). These wages allow residents of Northeast Minnesota to take full advantage of lower costs of living.

Left the City Behind, Loving Rural Life

We moved here from Bismarck, North Dakota on Labor Day last year and fell in love with our small town here on the range. The people are incredibly friendly. When we moved in, our neighbors visited to introduce themselves and we’ve attended many neighborhood bonfires and gatherings. Our kids love their teammates on their baseball, hockey, basketball and cross country teams. We found good jobs and love that our annual property taxes are about ¼ what we paid for a similar home in North Dakota. We’ve spent time canoeing the lakes, hiking the trails, picking berries and enjoying all the wonderful outdoor adventures available up here.

We were a little worried if we’d miss the amenities that come with living in a city. We thought our kids might not get the same educational opportunities. To be honest, we don’t feel like we’ve missed much and our kids have thrived in schools with small class sizes and teachers who really
care about the community. We’ve found good local restaurants and enjoyed the local theater, the fine arts programming from Northern Lights and watching high school sports surrounded by friends.

You’ll never find a place that is absolutely perfect. We love it here, and we can do almost everything we want but I do like to watch professional sports and our town can’t quite support a 60,00 seat stadium. When that bug hits we jump in the car and take a short trip down great roads to the Cities to watch the Vikings or Wild. It’s a short enough trip where we can be there and back in a day, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of the big city stress evaporating as you drive north knowing you’re going home.

Rural by Choice

I’m what you call “rural by choice.” When I was 18, I couldn’t imagine ever moving back to small town Minnesota. Turns out it was one of the best decisions I have ever made! After getting my engineering degree, I had a great job opportunity and moved back to the area. I spent the next 10 years as a consulting engineer, working primarily with industrial and mining clients across North America. I recently shifted my career to small business consulting, which has been a great way to use my engineering background and business knowledge. Living in this area, I get to enjoy the amazing recreational opportunities that the Iron Range provides while having a meaningful career making a positive impact in my community.

The Iron Range is uniquely positioned with abundant natural resources, which has led to over 100 years of iron mining in the region as well as a robust timber and paper industry. There are well paying jobs directly in these industries and supporting them as well. Whether that’s a technical position designing mine systems, delivering critical safety supplies to mines, or machining parts for the heavy equipment operating in our region, there are great jobs supporting safe and environmentally responsible natural resource businesses in our area.

The skills people need to support our natural resource businesses have so many more applications, and small businesses have started and grown all across our region to take advantage of one of our best resources – our people. There are also great resources available to help current and aspiring entrepreneurs grow a successful business. Northland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) offers no-cost assistance to entrepreneurs looking to start, manage, or grow their business idea. It is so much fun to work with all these energetic people looking to build jobs and community in our region!

In addition to the SBDC, there are so many other partners that are here to help businesses grow in our natural resource economy. One of these key partners is the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI). NRRI is a regional branch of the University of Minnesota focused on developing cutting edge solutions to challenges facing natural resource-based industries. They employ researchers in a wide variety of natural resource related areas that help businesses and entrepreneurs understand and capitalize on their ideas. NRRI also conducts studies on forest health and wildlife, water impacts and remediation, and innovative uses for industrial waste, to name a few. Their integrated, applied research is focused on the economy of the future. This technical expertise paired with responsive regional lenders, business technical assistance, and a well-trained labor force make the Iron Range a great place to start a natural resource focused business!

Vicki Hagberg, Business Consultant (She/Her)
Northland Small Business Development Center

  • Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
  • Iron Range Tourism Bureau
  • L&M Radiator
  • Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation