Who's Making Money Now ...
Hard times everywhere? Hardly! A gimlet-eyed look at the winners and losers of the new economy—plus, salary figures for 100 jobs in Minnesota.
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If you need a virtual whoopee cushion, there’s an app for that. Looking for a two-dimensional dashboard hula dancer? There’s an app for that. Searching for a way to mint money? For iPhone software developers, at least, it certainly seems like there’s an app for that. Long before the iPhone’s App store was landing BusinessWeek cover stories and raking in billions, Minnesota-based DoApp saw opportunity. It was among the first developers to get in on the action, launching two apps in 2008 that landed among the most-downloaded utility apps of the year (myLite Flashlight and myLighter). DoApp is also responsible for more than 100 other apps, including the WCCO Mobile Local app, and Adagogo, an application that offers digital coupons based on geography. The company has recently landed a contract with Sony BMG and has other major deals in the works. “We’re growing, and I’m really proud of some of our game-changing technologies,” says DoApp CEO Wade Beavers. “But the app world is the Wild West. We’re just in our infancy.”
In a recent Zagat Survey, 22 percent of diners report skipping appetizers and dessert to save cash. Perhaps that’s why Twin Cities restaurateurs like Broders’ and Salut Bar Americain are packaging their appetizers and entrées together in bargain dining deals.
If you listen, you can hear it: pocketbooks snapping shut tighter than sustainably farmed oyster shells. But that doesn’t mean people are tossing aside their beloved organic foods. On the contrary, the market has continued to expand, though more slowly in recent months. “We are definitely experiencing healthy growth,” says Lee Wallace, director of Minneapolis-based Peace Coffee. “Our customers are still interested in supporting their hometown company.” It seems that java hounds saving dough by brewing at home are willing to splurge a bit on ingredients to make the labor worthwhile. “People are looking for something to feel good about,” Wallace says. “Our coffee is freshly roasted. It gets into their hands in a responsible way.”
Loser: Expensive Restaurants
Now that inelegance is the new elegance, the casualties are stacking up: Morton’s, D’Amico Cucina, and Bellanotte are among the high-end eateries that have closed in the past year.
Crime in the state has reached a 40-year low, but that hasn’t stopped Minnesotans from arming themselves. Gun sales began to soar just prior to the election of President Barack Obama, out of fear that he’d impose new gun-control laws. The rise continued, albeit at a more leisurely clip, right along with the recession. “There has been a slowing of the rush,” says John Monson, owner of Bill’s Gun Shop & Range in Robbinsdale and Circle Pines. “[But] from October 2008 to March 2009, we could hardly keep some guns in stock.”
The golf business has been subpar, according to the Minnesota Golf Association, though the state has fared better than the nation. Rounds here were down in 2008 and up a bit last summer, though new discounts undercut income from the added business. Crafty golfers have found a silver lining: Golf carts qualify for the federal electric-car tax credit.
Okay, so it’s not Paris. But gazing upon Lake Pepin from a high perch in Frontenac State Park can be romantic too. People are traveling closer to home these days—state campsite use was up 9 percent last summer—and that means more tents and mummy bags. “We saw a larger than usual increase in camping sales in 2008,” says Rod Johnson, owner of Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis. Sales for 2009 were up slightly also. “People are trying to spend less money,” Johnson says. “A backpacking and camping vacation is less expensive than other options.”
A glut of empty seats, especially in business class, is costing the airline industry a bundle. Delta, which just bought Northwest Airlines, lost more than $8 billion in 2008 alone.
With the White House declaring clean energy an economic priority, Minnesota will reap more than $200 million in federal stimulus dollars for weatherization and other projects, according to the state Office of Energy Security, including $54 million for solar, wind, and biofuels. These dollars, plus a handful of tax credits and rebates, have been especially beneficial to the state’s fledgling solar industry. Suddenly, St. John’s University in Collegeville is breaking ground on a solar farm and St. Paul is planning a $2 million system for the roof of its downtown RiverCentre. “The solar industry has gotten a huge shot in the arm with the stimulus bill,” says Linda Taylor, clean energy director for the St. Paul–based policy group, Fresh Energy. And that only makes sense in a state with an estimated sun-power potential that’s equivalent to Jacksonville, Florida.
Loser: Ethanol Advocates
Lower gas prices combined with higher corn prices spelled trouble for old-school ethanol. Minnesota plants closed in Morris and Melrose and a facility planned for Dundas was shuttered.
Twin Citians are taking the edge off—and then some. The use of heroin and other opiates has risen significantly. In fact, Minneapolis now has some of the cheapest and purist heroin found anywhere in the country, according to a June 2009 report by Carol Falkowski, director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division of the state’s Department of Human Services. Of the local flood of heroin, she offers, “This is a new market that’s open for new entrepreneurial opportunities. And I think, in terms of law enforcement, there is a perception with narcotics that Minnesota is like Mayberry or Pumpkin Hollow.”
Use of stimulants like cocaine and meth is declining. Whether that’s due to police efforts or people switching habits, one thing is certain: Nobody needs to be more alert right now.