Living in Faribault

Faribault Central Avenue
Faribault Central Avenue
Faribault Central Avenue

View down Faribault's Central Avenue on a quiet Friday afternoon in July 2016.

Demographics and Economy of Faribault

Since its early stages of development, Faribault, Minnesota has been a home for groups of immigrants. Over the course of the past couple decades, Faribault has undergone a greater increase in immigrants and minority populations than ever before. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of Faribault residents identifying as only white decreased from 98% to 82.6%. These changes in demographics are visible in many sections of the city, including the public school system. In those two decades, the minority student enrollment in the Faribault schools increased by 243%.1  This statistic is even more noteworthy when we consider that during the same time period, the overall enrollment in the schools was decreasing.2  The proportion of native English speakers in the district also decreased from about 95% to less than 80%.3  These drastic demographic changes of the Faribault population have been particularly pronounced in the economy and within Faribault’s schools.

Faribault, like other small Minnesota cities, has drawn and continues to draw large immigrant and refugee populations because of the large presence of low-­skilled jobs in the economy, social services infrastructures, and the possibility of a high quality of life in a rural area.4  However, while similar demographic changes have been happening throughout Minnesota, Faribault’s situation is unique even when compared to its neighboring towns. Northfield and Owatonna are two nearby cities with similar population sizes and geographies. Of these three cities, Faribault has the largest number and percentage of multicultural students in its public school district.5

Faribault’s immigrant populations have changed in composition over the years. During Faribault’s early years, the vast majority of immigrants to Faribault were coming from European countries, while the immigrants of the 20th century tend to originate from Latin American and African countries. These groups bring not only racial diversity to Faribault, but also religious diversity. The recent influx of immigrants from Eastern African countries—particularly Somalia—has resulted in a sizeable Muslim population in the city. The portion of Faribault’s population identifying with a race other than white is made up primarily of Latinos and Somalis. 6  These different groups are not equally represented in the job market. The table below shows the major racial groups in Faribault and their median yearly incomes. The incomes of Faribault residents mirror those of the state and country in that they indicate sizable inequality between groups.7

Unemployment City State U.S.
Asian $30,057 $29,052 $34,418
White $25,817 $32,463 $31,133
Two or more races $20,833 $22,011 $22,664
Hispanic $17,356 $20,296 $21,505
American Indian and Alaska Native $9,375 $18,319 $21,510
Black or African-American $8,778 $22,085 $25,062

As shown by the table, the median incomes for the minority and immigrant populations are significantly lower for the city of Faribault than for the nation as a whole. In most cases, they are also lower than the averages for the state of Minnesota. This is likely due in part to the types of industry and jobs available in Faribault. Shown below are the occupations that draw the most workers in Faribault. Many of the most common occupations–such as construction, transportation, etc.–are jobs with traditionally lower incomes, and they may account for the income disparities between Faribault and the rest of the country.8

Occupation City State U.S.
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations 26.1% 13.1% 12.4%
Sales and office occupations 18.6% 24.8% 25.4%
Service occupations 18.1% 15.8% 17.1%
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations 11.9% 8.5% 9.8%
Education, legal, community service, arts, and media occupations 9.8% 10.5% 10.6%
Management, business, and financial occupations 8.7% 15.9% 14.3%
Healthcare practitioners and technical occupations 4.3% 5.6% 5.2%
Computer, engineering, and science occupations 2.4% 5.9% 5.2%

It is somewhat difficult to find information about the town’s responses and attitudes toward all the changes and diversity that it is experiencing. In some cases, the lack of mention of diversity is somewhat telling. On the city’s official website, for example, there is a page called “Demographics and Development Stats.” This is the only part of the website specifically describing the residents and make-up of the city. Along with a small table about the overall population, households, and land area of the town, there are links to various publications about development, population trends, and other data about the city. One of these publications, the Community Context, is a section of Faribault’s Comprehensive Plan that explains the state of Faribault’s economy, development, residents, and more. There is a section titled “Diversity,” in which the report briefly explains how the Hispanic population of the city has increased in recent history. There is no mention, however, of any other demographics.9  Since the Comprehensive Plan was written ten years ago, it may be that the other minority groups in Faribault were less noticeable when it came out. The Community Context may, however, be an indication of how the city initially responded to its changing population.

The presence of different ethnic and religious groups has presented the city with several difficulties. One of the most public examples of this has been the debate over pepperoni pizza at the Faribault Public Schools. When the district decided to remove pepperoni pizza from the schools’ menus this year, it caused much controversy among community members. The official reason for the decision was to bring the district into compliance with the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. There are many arguments however from people who believe the removal of pepperoni was actually a concession to the city’s Somali residents–many of whom do not eat pork. Though all the official statements point toward health reasons, the comments on the Faribault Daily News article about this issue accuse the district of ulterior motives. One commenter complains, “I think its called catering to the minority.” This same opinion is common throughout many of the article’s seventeen comments, and another commenter explains that in their opinion, health could not possibly have been the reason: “If pork is pulled from our school menus, what is this saying to our pork producing farmers in this area? If the school district is so concerned about kids eating FAT and SODIUM, then why is it that parents can bring McDonalds into the lunch room? There are 4 choices on the lunch menus everyday. If one is pork, that leaves 3 other choices. Pulling pork was never a issue until now, so don’t tell us it had nothing to do with a certain religious group! It has everything to do with them.” These comments indicate how much skepticism there is permeating this issue, and they offer an example of how racial and religious conflict is present in Faribault and its schools.10

A more recent Daily News article discusses the delay of the upgrade of the Abubaker As-Saddique Islamic Center. The Center is moving into a new, larger building, and it has been running into delays with the Faribault Planning commission. The writer of the article suggests a double standard and questions whether or not a church would also have had such a long process.11  As evidenced by these events, Faribault has clearly not yet come up with an ideal policy for accommodating its changing demographics, and there remain voices on all sides of the issue.

The existence of the Faribault Diversity Coalition holds promise as an organization whose goal is to “build understanding and trust between community and immigrants coming into the community.” Among this organization’s goals are to connect people with resources, educate the greater community about diversity, and hold regular meetings. However, a more recent report cites the closing of the Welcome Center, a subset of the Diversity Coalition, as a cutback in resources available to new immigrants. At its prime, the Welcome Center was able to offer advice and support to Faribault’s many newcomers. It closed in December 2010, and the Diversity Coalition has since decreased its activities. The decline of this organization has left Faribault at a crossroads as it decides how to move forward.12

The city of Faribault has experienced a multitude of changes in recent years, and it is still learning how to best adapt to them. The debates continue, and Faribault’s increasingly diverse population will only become more and more relevant to the state of the city.

  1. Taryn Arbeiter, et. al., “After the Welcome Center: Renewing Conversations about Immigration and Diversity in Faribault,” (St. Olaf College: 2011), 4-7. 

  2. Faribault Comprehensive Plan, “Community Context,” adopted 2003, 9. 

  3. Taryn Arbeiter, et. al., “After the Welcome Center: Renewing Conversations about Immigration and Diversity in Faribault,” (St. Olaf College: 2011), 7. 

  4. Taryn Arbeiter, et. al., “After the Welcome Center: Renewing Conversations about Immigration and Diversity in Faribault,” (St. Olaf College: 2011), 4-5.. 

  5. St. Olaf Students, “Mini-Conference Briefing Papers,” (presented at the [Mini-Conference on Newcomers, Schools & Community Connectedness], Faribault High School, April 11, 2013). 

  6. Taryn Arbeiter, et. al., “After the Welcome Center: Renewing Conversations about Immigration and Diversity in Faribault,” (St. Olaf College: 2011), 4-7. 

  7. Taryn Arbeiter, et. al., “After the Welcome Center: Renewing Conversations about Immigration and Diversity in Faribault,” (St. Olaf College: 2011), 4-7. 

  8. Taryn Arbeiter, et. al., “After the Welcome Center: Renewing Conversations about Immigration and Diversity in Faribault,” (St. Olaf College: 2011), 4-7. 

  9. Faribault Comprehensive Plan, “Community Context,” adopted 2003. 

  10. Ashley Klemer, “Faribault Public Schools pulls the pork, keeping with new dietary guidelines,” Faribault Daily News, March 12, 2013. 

  11. Jaci Smith, “No more delays needed for new Faribault Islamic center,” Faribault Daily News, June 5, 2013. 

  12. Taryn Arbeiter, et. al., “After the Welcome Center: Renewing Conversations about Immigration and Diversity in Faribault,” (St. Olaf College: 2011), 1.