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Downtown employers solidify return-to-office plans in Twin Cities

Large employers in Minneapolis and St. Paul are bringing many workers back on a hybrid model.

MINNEAPOLIS — After renovating their headquarters in the Young-Quinlan Building during the pandemic, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce has started to bring employees back to the office over the past few months.

Grace Waltz, the vice president of public policy, finds the change refreshing.

"Talking to some of my colleagues, it feels like downtown is coming back," Waltz said, "and it's not just us in the office anymore."

Indeed, the downtown workforce is slowly trickling back to Minneapolis this spring, now that the omicron surge has subsided. 

Wells Fargo, for example, brought most employees back through a flexible hybrid model on March 14, while U.S. Bancorp has "more employees back in the office on a hybrid basis over the past several weeks," a spokesperson said. While neither company shared specific numbers, both are among the city's largest employers, with nearly 12,000 downtown workers combined before the pandemic.

According to the Minneapolis Downtown Council, the occupancy rate in some of downtown's largest buildings has reached 44.6%, about triple the number reported in March 2021. 

That thing called rush hour has even returned, coupled with long lines at the bus stops. 

"I've never been so happy to sit in a traffic jam," Waltz said. "You're seeing lines at restaurants in the IDS, you're seeing all sorts of people walking through the skyways, and I think those numbers are just going to continue over the next few weeks. We hear employers every single day, who are bringing their folks back."

In neighboring St. Paul, there are also signs of progress. 

Joe Spencer, the president of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance, said visitor and worker activity has doubled in the past month, as major companies like Travelers, Ecolab and Securian coordinate return-to-office plans. 

Ecolab, in particular, plans to bring more than 2,700 workers back to St. Paul and Eagan on April 4, according to a spokesperson. However, the company will also be offering a hybrid model, allowing many employees to work remotely up to 40% of the time. 

Meanwhile, through a "Work Your Way" model, 3M is offering similar hybrid options. But the company did open most company sites - including the headquarters in Maplewood - for broader in-person work on March 14. 

At the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, Grace Waltz said hybrid options seem to be the wave of the future. So far, Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays seem to be the busiest days in downtown Minneapolis, a trend she expects to continue through the summer. 

"There's some of that reconditioning that needs to happen, because we've all been working from home in our sweats and pajamas," Waltz said. "I think people forgot what they loved about being downtown and all the energy that's here."

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