Is this heaven? No, it's Woodbury, one of the 'most prosperous' cities in America

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The good old days are right now in Woodbury, where almost 98 percent of adults hold a high school diploma and all the children are smarter than average.

The streets are alive with the sound of prosperity. In Woodbury (pop. 67,855), that would be the drone of traffic on Hudson Road, Radio Drive, and Interstate 94. 

According to a report by the Economic Innovation Group, a D.C. bipartisan public policy organization, 100 percent of residents in the St. Paul suburb live "in prosperity." The analysis looked at seven factors between 2011 and 2015, including poverty rate, the number of businesses, and adults without a high school diploma.

The number of Woodbury residents living in poverty registered below 2 percent. (Other U.S. cities under 200,000 residents average about 16 percent.) The suburb experienced almost a 13 percent uptick in the number of businesses. Less than 3 percent of adults are without a high school diploma. (That's nine points better than the national percentage.) 

It was numbers like these that moved the Innovation Group placed to place Woodbury in rarified air.  

Peg Regreuth feels it blowing. Grandchildren compelled the 71-year-old retired school teacher to relocate from Michigan 14 months ago, purchasing a townhouse in the 700-unit City Walk at Woodbury development. Her relatives live in the Stonemills Farms subdivision, where homes go for about $400,000 and up. 

City Walk isn't as rarefied. Apartments start at $1,200. Social Security and a pension constitute Regreuth's fixed income. 

A five-minute walk from her residence sits Pondview Townhomes, one of Woodbury's very few affordable housing complexes. 

"I wouldn't say it's cheap to live here," she says, "but it's comparable to everywhere else. I live here and I don't have a lot of money."

Still, Regreuth sees a flourishing community with clean, well-planned thoroughfares that lead to neighborhoods "with good families" and "not expensive" shopping at Target and Walmart. All of it's accessorized by "nice landscaping" that shows Woodbury cares.

Regreuth believes prosperity can be defined by the people Woodbury attracts.

"You look at City Walk, the people are lovely. You couldn't have a more diverse community," she says. "I know people from Romania, Somalia, Korea, Japan -- you name it -- who live here."

Faysal Ahmed left New York and landed in Woodbury two years ago. Ahmed works for an electrical company in White Bear Lake. He's married with a daughter. The family lives in a rented townhouse. 

"Here, living here," he says, "there's nothing else in life a person could want." 

City spokesperson Jason Egerstrom points to education to explain Woodbury's boon. Almost 61 percent of residents hold a bachelor's degree or higher. That's more than double the national average.

"Woodbury is a place where people want to be," he says. "Part of the success we're having is our residents' educational attainment."

Woodbury has grown into Minnesota's ninth largest city. According to U.S. Census data, median family income is around $85,000. The average home price hovers around $315,000. The city's cheapest apartments rent for $750 a month, with one-bedrooms averaging about $1,150. Among the biggest employers are Walmart and HealthEast.   

Greg Metzger has witnessed Woodbury's climb. He's lived in the city for 21 years, but regrets to say that Wodbury's 100 percent prosperity rate is "inaccurate." The executive director of the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf notes that 40 percent of its patrons have a Woodbury zip code.

Those who visit the Food Shelf include retirees and families reeling from a life catastrophe like illness or job loss. But one of the largest contingents, Metzger says, "is those working a minimum wage job, maybe two of them, and it's a real ongoing challenge to make ends meet."

Metzger wishes he could say Woodbury is the land of equity. Firsthand experience convinces him otherwise.

"I don't think you could say that 100 percent of the population of any city is living in prosperity," he says, "Woodbury included."       

Previously in Is this heaven?:


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