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Crow Wing County Board: Population surge possible, study shows

A lack of data about a group with significant impact on local economies prompted a study conducted by University of Minnesota Extension community economics educators.

At Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting, Commissioners Paul Thiede and Rosemary Franzen learned about the study on those owning second homes in eight western and central Minnesota "high natural amenity" counties. Counties included in the study were Crow Wing, Cass, Aitkin, Hubbard, Becker, Otter Tail, Douglas and Pope.

Seasonal households - or those vacant for at least part of the year - represent 31 percent of all households within the study area. The proportion of seasonal households in Crow Wing County was in line with the region's numbers, although seasonal households in both Aitkin and Cass counties exceeded 45 percent of the total.

What researchers found was second homeowners within the studied area tended to be older, well-educated and wealthy with intentions of moving into their seasonal homes permanently within the next decade. Most respondents reported feeling strongly attached to their seasonal homes, and a slimmer majority said they were strongly attached to the closest community to those homes as well.

A median estimate of annual spending by second homeowners within the study area was nearly $3,250, including money spent on groceries, restaurants and other area businesses. More than half of respondents reported owning, operating or playing a significant management role in a business, and of those with self-identified leadership experience, one-quarter stated they would consider opening a branch of their business within their second-home communities.

The impact of the study, Extension Educator Merritt Bussiere suggested, is for communities to recognize the potential for population surges of people who already have connections and investments there. Among those responding, 64 percent reported volunteering in their home communities and another 30 percent indicated they would consider volunteering near their second homes.

"Second-home communities could benefit from the talents and leadership skills seasonal residents bring and should undertake strategies to welcome and integrate them, especially in preparation for their permanent transition to the community," the study states. "Given that 56 percent of respondents intend to move permanently to their second home, 46,000 permanent households could migrate to the study area, primarily over the next 10 years, if that high percentage of second homeowners sticks with their plans."

To help determine ways to successfully integrate seasonal residents into permanent communities, Extension researchers asked respondents open-ended questions about the most important improvements and challenges expected in the next 20 years. Second homeowners overwhelmingly identified water quality and environmental concerns as the top priority in both categories, with concerns related to high taxes appearing next on both lists.

Improving perception of the quality of local amenities and services among second homeowners would also play a role in community integration, Bussiere said. He noted the responses were somewhat unusual in comparison to other studies he's completed, where typically at least a couple services receive higher marks than the rest. The responses in this study were relatively similar across the board, from police protection to waste management to local retail. Access to Internet service received the lowest score among respondents.

"Either these folks are highly critical, or some of the services are not all that great," Bussiere said.

Bussiere was unable to break down responses on the county level for comparison, although he said reports for each county are set to be prepared by this fall.

Survey data collected by Extension educators Bussiere and Ryan Pesch from 573 second homeowners formed the basis of the study and accounted for close to half of those prompted by mail. Information gathered and questions posed to the study subjects were based upon requests of local partners. In Crow Wing County, those partners included county government, the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Commission and the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

Visit to view the entire study.

Chairman Paul Koering and Commissioners Doug Houge and Rachel Reabe Nystrom did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or Follow on Twitter at

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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