David's Blog

Monday, February 02, 2009

Positioning Duluth for Prosperity

For Duluth to be competitive in the new economy, we must be willing to bring all of our human, social and cultural capital to the table. This challenge, thankfully, presents us with some exciting advantages.

Drew Digby, regional labor market analyst for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, recently shared his interpretation of these advantages with a Chamber audience. He also indicated how we can put these advantages to work in positioning our beloved community for prosperity.

Our nation’s current recession is causing people to contemplate what is important to them and to their families. This introspection may lead many to conclude that acquiring material possessions will not breed happiness. Likewise, people may begin to question the value of living in increasingly congested megalopolises. Hour-plus commutes, increasing crime rates, and diminishing air and water quality, combined with less available recreational opportunities, may have more and more people deciding that a happy life is more likely in a community the size of Duluth. In coming years, the Emerald City on the Hill will look increasingly compelling. Most of the qualities that attract people to Duluth would be lost in a city of 500,000 citizens, or in a town of 25,000.

Duluth, at 85,000, and the neighboring communities of Superior, Hermantown and Proctor, bringing the area to 125,000, is an ideally sized city – if we can create the economic, social and cultural opportunities that are attractive to people.

More workers are making a living from occupations considered to be within the creative professions. The creative professions include far more than artists, writers and computer programmers – they include doctors, teachers, architects, engineers and bankers, as well. Many of those in the creative professions want to live in places that respect the value of diversity, creativity, and social and cultural capital.

Duluth is well along the right path. Higher education is now one of our major employers, and it continues to grow at a significant rate. Health care is also on the rise. In fact, health care wages accounted for 30.6% of all dollars in paychecks given to Duluth workers.
And, despite an outdated stereotype, Duluth’s citizenry is, on average, younger than most think. In 2000, the median age in Duluth was 35.4. Recent estimates indicate the age has dropped to 33.6.

It gets even more encouraging. The Northland Works initiative recently identified that there will be 75,000 job openings in the next 10 years in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. Many of those jobs will be filled by people already in the region, by young people who already live here, and by the college students who are planning to stay. Though these statistics are encouraging, we will still need about 22,000 new people to fill the jobs over the next 10 years. And we will need to attract these new workers to our beloved community if we are going to remain a vibrant city.

Fortunately, the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and other community leadership organizations are actively engaged in attracting and retaining young professionals within Duluth. The Chamber’s Fuse Duluth initiative’s mission is: to inform, network and connect young people so they can engage and influence their community. We are also working to provide the creation of jobs that will attract and retain workers of every age within our community.

Drew Digby ended his presentation with a call to action. He asked us to support new ideas, support thoughtful and environmentally sensitive development, support the arts, and support and trust the new people coming to our community. Drew was optimistic that we will do these things. I am equally optimistic.

Duluthians are known for being resilient and hardworking. Let’s ensure that we are also recognized by these other descriptors: welcoming, creative, supportive and optimistic. We must be so. Our city’s future depends on it.

posted by David Ross at

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