THE ISSUES: Balancing economic growth & preservation
QUESTION #5: ECONOMIC GROWTH
Duluth is a unique city that has both big-town and small-town charm. There is so much new – businesses, breweries, Twin Ports Interchange, redeveloping old buildings – but there’s also so much history. How do you propose we grow as a city, grow our economic base – all while preserving what we have? Where is that balance?
Emily Larson’s Response
“It is why we love living here. There’s active real stories in every neighborhood, right? And you know, whether I’m out door knocking, I’ve been out since January, door knocking. So you hear all these nooks and crannies and the stories of neighborhoods from neighbors who are telling you the actual story of every block you go on, or downtown or some of these developments, a lot of what you just listed are things that I’ve worked really hard on.
You know, I was able to help secure a $100 million to go into this billion dollar hospital on one side of town, $194 million that’s going to go into NLX on the other side of downtown. And for sure, within the downtown corridor, there’s this tremendous opportunity. So the old, old Central High School building, the Leona housing in the jail, there is a way to tell the full story. And I think something we have upcoming is like the Armory building. That is that’s a perfect example of taking an old structure, putting focus and determination behind it, advocating at the state, making sure they got $4.5 million last year to help make sure that we’re telling a fresh story about that building.
But it is also about bringing to life those older stories and recognizing that history also gets to evolve. So this Downtown Housing task force really honors the built environment of downtown, but wants to repurpose it. And we’re already starting to do that. So the Ordean building will be our first site or office building to turn into housing.
There is a very thoughtful way to grow our economy and to be both fully dedicated to expanding our tax base and really transparent and honest about the full story that it can tell.
Duluth is an incredible place to do business, and I would- do not fall prey in trap to this old stale narrative that it’s not. We are in our fourth straight record year of private development investment in the City of Duluth, the fourth straight record year. We are seeing tremendous amounts of interest across the board in this community. Tourism tax is up 19% over 2019. This is an incredible city and this community deserves a Mayor who isn’t out here repeating stale messages about how it’s a lousy place to do business. It deserves a Mayor who is out front being the champion.
Part of how we do that is lift up the stories of these developments that we’ve just talked about and to include the stories of people who are actually doing the hard work and making it happen, including our incredible staff at the city of Duluth.”
Roger Reinert’s Response
“So, I think first we need to be really clear as community leaders that we have to grow. I mean, that sometimes is a conversation we have in Duluth. We have to grow. Why do we have to grow, especially in the commercial sector? Because in Minnesota, commercial property taxes pay most of the bill.
So when we’re not growing our commercial tax base or when we are, but we’re using tax increment financing or tax abatement, which isn’t adding to the local property tax coffers; Our residential homeowners and frankly, our existing businesses pay more. You know, and again, we’ve seen that a proposed 9% levy last year, a proposed 2% this year, even with record state subsidy in the form of LGA. Growing our commercial tax base, growing our economic sector makes all of our things more affordable and makes the property tax burden for residential homeowners more affordable.
So to your question, we build on what we already do really well. We build on what we’ve already incorporated into our community, into our sense of who we are, the Duluth of the 21st century and where we’re headed. And that’s looking at those secondary, tertiary business opportunities related to core economic sectors aviation, the port, transportation and rail, medical, higher education.
We have great primary employers in all of those areas. What we don’t have are the add on businesses that make sense when you have two major hospitals, higher education institutions, the most vibrant port, not in the state of Minnesota, but the largest inland port by tonnage in the entire country, along with an airport, a freeway rail. Like, we have to find those opportunities and attract those related business developers.
And then thirdly, we have to address that reputation we have as a difficult place to do business. When we have that reputation, we don’t get all of the potential investors that we might have. In fact, some of them go to neighboring communities or others just go to other regional centers. In the last decade, the other regional centers in Minnesota grew by an average of 10%. And we grew by 400 people .05 percent. And that’s not growth, that’s stagnation.
So we have to grow. We have to work with our community to understand why we need to grow. And then we look for that growth that’s related to what we already do well. There’s no benefit of trying to land the next big thing or trying to tell our community we want to be something different than we already are. But there are plenty of opportunities to look for existing growth. And adding to our strong history are the blue collar we make things, we do things with our hands, moving into the to the next century.”