Wadena: shopping destination
Wadena has the third highest per capita level of taxable retail and service sales in greater Minnesota, according to a study by William Craig and Bruce Schwartau of the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.
According to the data, which is calculated from sales tax records, a total of $80 million was spent in Wadena in 2009 or $19,569 per person. This per capita rate was third only to Alexandria ($25,958) and Brainerd/Baxter ($19,842). Other high per-capita cities behind Wadena were Detroit Lakes ($19,202), Bemidji ($18,564), Grand Marais ($17,854), Grand Rapids ($17,398) and Mankato/North Mankato ($17,153).
The total raw number of taxable retail and service sales was $80 million - almost as much as the next up, Little Falls ($81 million), a town with more than double Wadena's population. Ranked just below Wadena was International Falls (population 6,434) at $67 million.
Towns of similar population size to Wadena took in less money. Pipestone (pop. 4,317) took in $32 million or $7,349 per capita, and Two Harbors (pop. 3,745) took in $21 million or $5,513 per capita.
Pipestone is about 50 miles from Sioux Falls and Two Harbors is 27 miles from Duluth. Wadena is an hour and a half from similar sized cities (Fargo and St. Cloud) and the largest town in about a 45-mile radius.
The study also ranked seven levels of trade centers in greater Minnesota. In 1989, Wadena was classified as level 4, "partial shopping," but by 1999 it had moved up to level 3, "complete shopping."
How is Wadena raking in so much money when other studies have shown that this is a low-income area?
"At first blush it's very easy to substantiate because of the traffic patterns," Mayor Wayne Wolden said. "Little Falls, Brainerd, Alexandria, Wadena - we're all on our way to the lakes area."
He said that tens of thousands of cars every day pass through Wadena, which is the intersection of U.S. Highway 10, U.S. Highway 71 and Minnesota Highway 29.
"People are buying gas and eating in restaurants," he said. "They're buying Homecrest furniture ... People are dropping money on the way from the metro to cabin country."
He said it is another reason to widen U.S. Highway 10, which has become a four-lane highway everywhere except Wadena.
Wolden also said that students at M State pay sales tax on supplies for programs like cosmetology and nursing, and that Walmart draws shoppers into Wadena.
City Administrator Brad Swenson said that sometimes utilities have a state sales tax too.
Wolden said that Wadena has the advantage of being on the same trade route as other cities, but because Wadena has a smaller population, the per capita figure is high.
"Because we are a much smaller population than Alexandria, Brainerd, and Little Falls, but on the same trade route, it tells us that we might not take in more money, but because of our lesser population, the money that is spent here puts us in this sort of ratio," Wolden said.
He said the study could be good to attract merchants into town.
"I think this is a huge recognition, when we talk to businesses about transportation and spending habits of people," Wolden said.
While the study compared 2009 data figures from 1990, 1998 and 2003,Wadena had no data from these years.
Not all shopping-sized towns were included in the comparisons; the document stated that Minnesota Department of Revenue data was not available for Aitkin, Mora, Park Rapids or Princeton.