Understanding District 8 Manufacturers' Perspectives on Transportation: An Industry Cluster Approach

Principal Investigator(s):

Frank Douma, Director, State & Local Policy, Humphrey School of Public Affairs


Project summary:

Minnesota is home to many food processing, light industrial, and small manufacturing firms, most of which ship their goods to distributors and customers beyond the state's borders. These businesses rely on the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to maintain a safe, efficient multimodal infrastructure for freight transportation, and Minnesota relies on these businesses to contribute to communities' economic vitality across the state. Although MnDOT has a wealth of quantitative information regarding freight transportation, less is known about customer perspectives and priorities for the state's transportation infrastructure, such as the relative value of smooth pavement, snow and ice maintenance, and other factors that may be important to freight haulers.

This study aims to assess the needs of Minnesota manufacturers from a qualitative perspective, seeking to better understand the characteristics of those Greater Minnesota industries that make the greatest use of the transportation system and derive some of the greatest benefits from it. This knowledge could then be used to improve operational and policy planning and (near-term) investment decision making.

The research employs the recently developed U.S. Cluster Mapping Tool developed by Michael Porter's team at the Harvard Business School for the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). Using this tool, the research team identified industries that formed the economic base of communities in MnDOT's District 8, both in direct employment and in their ability to spur additional economic development. In partnership with MnDOT staff and economic development officials engaged through the University of Minnesota Extension, the team conducted 75 interviews with manufacturers and carriers in the District 8, learning specific details about their use of and ideas for improvement of the transportation system. Findings ranged from operations and maintenance to infrastructure, communications, and policy.

Project details:

  • Project number: 2013060
  • Start date: 01/2013
  • Project status: Completed
  • Research area: Planning and Economy
  • Topics: Freight