Minn. town's real estate can't compete with booming economy

(CBS News) THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. - It's a short bike ride to work for Chris Dillman.

But time enough for him to count the blessings of living where unemployment is three percent, less than half the national average.

He works as a technical support specialist for Digi-Key, an electronic parts distributor for smart phones, whose growth exploded after it switched from mail order to Internet sales.

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Dillman believes he is lucky to work there.

Chris Dillman, a technical support specialist in Thief River Falls, Minn.
Chris Dillman, a technical support specialist in Thief River Falls, Minn.
CBS News

"Yeah, I'm fortunate," said Dillman, laughing.

"I'm not here because of just the money. It's the other things. The small town atmosphere, the way the people... you can walk down the street, you can talk to somebody, not worry about it. Even if they are strangers, you can strike up a conversation. It's that kind of mentality," said Dillman.

He's talking about Thief River Falls, or TRF as they call it around here. Population 8,500 and counting.

Digi-Key will hire 150 workers this year.

Neighboring Arctic Cat has expanded its product line from snowmobiles to all terrain vehicles and will add 75 more jobs to its assembly line. Nearly half the town works at one plant or the other.

Maryel Anderson is a local realtor.

Maryel Anderson
Maryel Anderson
CBS News

"The real estate market is hot right now," said Anderson, about the housing market in Thief River Falls.

"We have jobs. We have employment here. I hope our supply can keep up, kind of, with our demand," said Anderson.

But she says the real estate market is struggling to keep up.

The short supply has compelled the companies to offer free bus rides for workers as far as 60 miles away.

With five buyers for every house, prices have risen from the usual two to three percent annually to 15 percent last year. And while that's tough for entry-level workers on $30,000 a year, that kind of money goes a long way up here.

After being outbid on five different homes, Dillman and his two sons finally purchased this one, after getting a tip.

The home was not technically on the market yet.

"I right place at the right time," Dillman said

They move in next month.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.

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