How are Economic Trends Shaping Stearns?


  • The character and intensity of the agricultural landscape may change over time as farmers are choosing to sell their land to larger operations.


  • An increased need for farm labor may increase the need for nearby workforce housing and associated services like day care.
  • Rural schools may see declining enrollment rates as family farms change hands to larger operators.


  • A decrease in crop diversity may affect the quality of Stearns County’s rivers and lakes.
  • Environmental impacts depend on the type of farming practices, which can have a negative effect on natural resources, habitat, and the climate.


  • As the public continues to rely on granite and aggregate extraction, careful planning will be needed to ensure development comes after resources are extracted.
  • eCommerce will influence how residents shop within the County.
  • Rural residents and farmers are looking for greater flexibility to do more with their land to achieve economic prosperity as farming becomes more difficult from a financial perspective.
  • The number of home businesses may be on the rise.


  • A growing workforce may put strain on the transportation network during peak-commute hours
  • Allowing locally sourced aggregate to be extracted before development occurs over the top of it can reduce the cost of new
  • The increase in e-commerce may reduce the number of personal automobile trips taken, but may increase the number of trips taken by parcel delivery services.

Farmington Operations

Historically, Stearns County has experienced a steady increase in the number of farming operations and the amount of land in production. In recent years, Stearns County has experienced a decrease in both categories. The 2017 Census of Agriculture reported a 14% decrease in the amount of farm land (acres) between 2012 and 2017. The number of farming operations also decreased by 16%. This national trend reflects some of the challenges farmers are facing in today’s economy. For example, farmers are experiencing lower commodity prices, while the cost of production has increased. The total operating expenses for all of Stearns County’s farms increased from $270.7 million to $591.7 million between 2002 and 2017. This has created a situation where many farmers have a negative net income, and forced to sell their land or remove their land from production to get by.


The number of jobs in Stearns County increased by more than 30% between 2000 and 2018 from 68,455 to 89,371. The majority of these jobs are within Health Care/Social Assistance, Retail Trade, and Manufacturing sectors. Stearns County’s recent job growth during this time is also reflected in its unemployment rate. Unemployment has decreased from 6.8% to 3.4% between 2010 and 2017.

The 2017 Census of Agriculture has started to track the number of young and new/beginning producers. A young producer is defined as a producer 35 years of age or younger. A new/beginning producer includes producers operating on any operation for 10 years or less. They may be on farms with producers who are not beginning producers. The 2017 Census of Agriculture included the following findings for Stearns County:

  • 14% of Stearns County’s farming operations are of 35 years of age or younger, which is slightly higher than the state average of 13%.
  • 10% of Stearns County’s farming operations are new or beginning producers, which is lower than the state average of 14%.

Natural Resource Extraction

The extraction of natural resources such as granite and aggregate are an important part of Stearns County’s economy. The premature development of homes and businesses can limit the extraction of the resource. Additionally, locally extracted aggregate can keep the cost of new roads and home foundations lower, making for more cost efficient development. Stearns County has many granite and aggregate quarries. Remaining granite is mostly found in the eastern part of Stearns County. Remaining aggregate is found throughout the County.

Market Trends + Shared Economies

eCommerce: Retailers in general have been impacted by the rise of online commerce, competing markets and behavioral change. In fact, online retail now constitutes a larger share of shopping in the U.S. This impact has played a role in a shrinking market for big-box retailers; resulting in some big- box stores closing or reducing the size of their building’s footprint. Other impacts include a growing number of trucks transporting goods to residential homes. Heavier truck traffic may have impacts on County and Township roads.
Entrepreneurship: The rise of online commerce has helped open the door for rural entrepreneurs to sell their goods and services from home. In turn, the number of home occupations and home extended businesses are on the rise. These types of businesses can range from professional services (accounting and hair salons), trades (auto repair/body shops and woodworking), and the production of goods (arts, crafts and food).
Work Space: As these home businesses out grow their space, entrepreneurs are seeking cheaper alternatives to leasing or buying office space. Some of this demand is being met through makerspace. Makerspace is commonly defined as a space where people can gather to create, invent and learn. Types of makerspace may include woodworking/metal shops, artisan space, and tech shops. These spaces are typically rented out through memberships or on a month-to-month basis. This is being seen to some degree in and around St. Cloud.
Event Space: People are looking for different experiences that are unique and memorable. Examples of new business models that provide agrarian experiences in rural communities include:

  • Meals (e.g., breakfast and dinner) on the farm
  • Wedding and event space in refurbished barns
  • Living farms that expose people to sustainable and organic farming practices

Shared Economies: Our economy is also being shaped by a shared economy, also known as a peer- to-peer (P2P) model. This model is based on the activity of acquiring, providing or sharing access to goods and services that are facilitated by an on-line platform. The most well known P2P models include grocery delivery services, home rentals (e.g., Airbnb ©), and ride-share programs (e.g., Uber© and Lyft©) , while sharing equipment amongst common users.

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