On an August Saturday afternoon, the scene is a slice of America's Norman Rockwell past. Barefoot children play one old cat and race their wagons down gently sloping sidewalks. Under the overhanging oaks, their fathers labor with hand mowers and rakes. On one lawn up the street, a rummage sale is in progress. Station wagons, laden with children, groceries, dogs and camping equipment, and trailing boats, slide out of driveways, heading north for a week or two at the lake.
It could as well be Little Rock, Ark., or Great Harrington, Mass., or Portland, Ore., for the nation is in its easier summer rhythms. But the setting is the north side of Minneapolis, in Minnesota, a state where the Rockwell vision pertains with a special consistency. If the American good life has anywhere survived in some intelligent equilibrium, it may be in Minnesota.
It is a state where a residual American secret still seems to operate. Some of the nation's more agreeable qualities are evident there: courtesy and fairness, honesty, a capacity for innovation, hard work, intellectual adventure and responsibility. The land is large (84,068 sq. mi.), the population small (just under 4,000,000). Nature is close (20 minutes from a downtown Minneapolis office building to a country lake) and generally well protected.
Politics is almost unnaturally clean—no patronage, virtually no corruption. The citizens are well educated; the high school dropout rate, 7.6%, is the nation's lowest. Minnesotans are remarkably civil; their crime rate is the third lowest in the nation (after Iowa and Maine). By a combination of political and cultural tradition, geography and sheer luck, Minnesota nurtures an extraordinarily successful society.
The state harbors some of the nation's fastest-growing computer companies—Honeywell Inc., Control Data Corp., Univac—along with a diversity of such other corporations as 3M Co., General Mills Inc., Geo. A. Hormel & Co., Pillsbury Co., and Investors Diversified Services Inc., one of the world's largest mutual fund conglomerates. The University of Minnesota, whose alumni and faculty have included seven Nobel laureates, ranks among the nation's best. It helped to develop the Salk vaccine, open-heart surgery, blight-resistant wheat. The Mayo Clinic remains America's secular Lourdes. Minneapolis' Tyrone Guthrie Theater displays some of the most distinguished drama west of Broadway. The Minnesota Orchestra under Stanislaw Skrowaczewski is one of the finest in the country. The Twins, the North Stars and the Vikings have brought a state of natural participant sportsmen into the big leagues.
"I have traveled this world over thoroughly," says Harry Heltzer, chairman and chief executive of the St. Paul-based 3M Co., "but I've never seen a place I would rather live. I can be home in 20 minutes and feed deer, ducks and geese in my yard." Indeed, one personnel problem in the large corporations is that executives transferred to Minnesota are so reluctant to leave that they would often rather quit and find other work there than accept a retransfer. Steve Scarborough, a young Honeywell engineer who turned down a promotion two years ago because it would have meant moving to Florida, says flatly: "Many places are nice, but none is better than Minnesota."