What’s the story behind Minnesota enclaves in Arizona, Florida?

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Twin Cities native Derek Grimme left home at 18 to attend college in Arizona, not expecting to make it his permanent home.

But four years have turned into nearly three decades in the Grand Canyon State, where he’s found a new community of Minnesota natives who cheer on the Vikings at a brewery.

“There are a lot of Minnesotans down here,” said Grimme, 46, of Tempe. “Maybe Minnesotans just have a way of finding one another.”

He turned to Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune’s reader-generated reporting project, to ask about the history and reason that so many Minnesotans have moved to Arizona and the Southwest.

Arizona is one of several states that boasts enclaves of Minnesota natives, some of whom are snowbirds who fly back north as temperatures rise. Data show that outside of the Midwest, Sun Belt states like California, Florida and Texas are top destinations for former Minnesotans. Warm weather is obviously one draw. But research is limited on why people leave or return.

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‘A warm Edina’

There is a long tradition of Minnesotans uniting in places like Phoenix and Naples, Fla. Some of these Minnesota enclaves began popping up in the 1940s and 1950s as improved air and auto travel inspired Americans to explore. Then, in the 1960s, the development of RV resorts and retirement communities drew more retirees and snowbirds.

A 1949 Minneapolis Star article noted that Arizona had taken off as a popular destination for winter getaways in that decade, thanks to air travel. By the 1950s, a Minnesota Club had started in Mesa. The developer of the Sun City retirement community near Phoenix estimated in 1976 that 10% of the residents were former Minnesotans, according to an article in the Star.

A survey in the late 1980s found that Minnesota snowbirds were the largest contingent of U.S. snowbirds in Arizona, representing 11% of its seasonal residents.

Naples had barely established roads when a few Minnesotans started vacationing there in the 1950s, luring other friends and family to escape winter on the Gulf Coast, said Mike Schumann, a St. Louis Park furniture store owner who lives in Naples.

Once described in a front page Star Tribune headline as “a warm Edina,” the affluent city of Naples had so many Minnesotans by the 1960s that they launched a weekly winter breakfast club in 1964 that still meets today for Q&As with Minnesota politicians and CEOs. (The CEO of General Mills and Speaker of the Minnesota House are scheduled to appear there this month.)

“I run into Minnesotans constantly,” Schumann, 72, said from Florida on a 70-degree day last week.

Half the Minnesotans at the weekly breakfast are transplants, while others are snowbirds or even weekend visitors, Schumann said. He said that people often vacation or move where they already have family or friends. Plus, southwest Florida hosts the Twins’ spring training.

“It kind of grows on them,” he said. “They come down here on a vacation … and start talking about buying a house.”

There are about 44,000 snowbirds who keep a residence in Minnesota but live elsewhere part-time, with Arizona, Florida and Texas being the most popular spots, according to a 2015 survey by the Minnesota Board of Aging.

For Schumann and his wife, it was an April blizzard that spurred them to board a flight, desperate for sunshine and palm trees. That 2002 vacation quickly snowballed into the couple buying a house and opening a business in Naples. A couple years ago, they became Florida residents so he could get politically involved, though they still return to Minnesota often — including for health care and summers on a Wisconsin lake.

“Minnesota is still a really important part of people’s lives here,” he said.

Losing college students

Minnesota drew more new residents than it lost to other states during the 1990s. But that trend has changed since 2001. On average, from 2018 to 2022, Minnesota gained 104,000 residents and lost 121,000 residents each year, said State Demographer Susan Brower. Other Midwest states are experiencing similar losses.

Brower said 18- to 19-year-olds represent the highest number of net losses in domestic migration, moving elsewhere for college or to start careers. In fact, Minnesota loses more college students than it attracts.

When Fridley native Andria Fennig was 25, she traded blizzards for dust storms and moved to Phoenix for an affordable graduate school program. She didn’t plan to stay 30 years. But she’s built a musical career and life there after nixing plans to relocate to pricey New York City.

“Phoenix has been a bargain until the last four or five years. But you don’t need four seasons of clothes,” Fennig, 53. “You grow your roots and say, ‘I’m very content here.'”

She’s also found a community of former Minnesotans, including Grimme, at Four Peaks Brewing Co. in Tempe. The business was started by ex-Minnesotans.

“It’s a big Vikings hangout,” she said.

Minnesotans changing their addresses on income tax returns most often relocate to Wisconsin, Florida, Texas, North Dakota, California and Arizona, according to IRS data. Census surveys show similar patterns, and that people are also moving to Minnesota from those places. California, Florida and Arizona are among the top states of origin for people relocating to Minnesota, according to Census data.

Minnesota’s workforce shortages and low unemployment rate are making it more urgent to attract and retain residents. A 2023 Minnesota Chamber Foundation report noted that, unlike with immigration, state policymakers have more control over factors that influence state-to-state migration. States that retain residents better have favorable climates and competitive tax rates, according to the report.

In March, Explore Minnesota is launching its first-ever national brand campaign to sell Americans on a move to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The agency has started a new division to draw newcomers. But Brower said it will take a significant and sustained shift in state-by-state migration to address workforce shortages.

Why people permanently move is harder to track, she said, adding that there’s limited academic research of tax policy impacting state-by-state migration, except among high-earners or inventors.

“There really is no one clear explanation,” Brower said. “It’s not necessarily about policies or amenities or taxes that are occurring here. These trends are much larger than we are.”

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Read more Curious Minnesota stories:

Does Minnesota have the coldest and longest winters of any of the US states?

How did Minnesota get its shape on the map?

Why does Minnesota sometimes get colder than the North Pole?

Why workers are reluctant to come to Minnesota, but stay once they’re here

How did Minnesota become a recurring ‘Golden Girls’ joke?

What are Minnesota’s most popular tourist attractions?

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