The new Duluth & the big problem for northern Minnesota

Minnesota Business Magazine covers “The New Duluth” in its July cover story. The story focuses on Duluth, Minnesota’s successes and challenges as it fights to expand beyond its shipping and manufacturing economic base. It’s a good story for Duluth, particularly its first term mayor Don Ness, but more importantly it outlines the big problem. Excuse me, “Big Problem” (TM). How do we get the economic and political infrastructure of places like Duluth and the Iron Range to switch gears and recognize entrepreneurship and innovation as the only ways to change our state of affairs? You can’t just say “do this,” so how do you demonstrate it?


  1. Anonymous says

    Aaron…It’s demonstrated by

    “Establishing an organization focused on advocating for private business” says Lisa Heyesen, director of business development at APEX…and

    “Working with small businesses to expand. The small business development center for northeastern Minnesota works diligently to ensure businesses succeed.” says CED director Elaine Hansen.

    Ask any Range politician how many business leaders they talked to in the last year, month, week to dicuss what legislation would help them. Let me know the answers you get. I don’t think it’s in their DNA to work with business leaders.

  2. Not be overly contrary, but I think Range legislators interact with business leaders fairly often, the question comes down to which business leaders, when and how. I’d argue, indeed, already have argued, that business interests tend to operate, justifiably, under business conditions. What’s going to work? What’s going to be profitable and functional and, most likely, enjoyable for the person conducting business. For me, this would imply livable towns with affordable amenities with private and public infrastructure geared to support new business.

    The great irony is that the Iron Range is actually better suited to be innovative than most regions, because of our wholly unique mining production tax formula and available capital through the IRRRB. We can do so much more than the flatlanders it ain’t even funny. And yet, time and again, we swing and miss for the fences.

    Point taken, I suppose, but a businessperson with a good, marketable, feasible idea SHOULD have a great opportunity on the Iron Range, better than most places. To the degree that is not true you are dealing with parochial political problems, not necessarily partisan ones.

  3. Anonymous says

    Aaron..”you think” they interact with business leaders “fairly often”, but you have no basis for that comment. You don’t know.

    OK, let’s at least take a first step. Start with Tom Anzelc. You have access to his Microsoft Outlook calendar…or Franklen Planner. Take a look at it. Let me know how many business leaders he’s talked to in the last year, how many he has scheduled for the next quarter. As you say..which, when and how is sufficent.

    Oh…and if you really believe there are no partisan politics on the Range, don’t write a book about it. It won’t sell.

  4. I think I’ve been pretty polite and forthright, considering how you continue to remain anonymous and antagonistic. You obviously know a little about me, but not everything. I assume you are the same anonymous poster who’s been showing up occasionally these last few months. I have some ideas who you might be, but honestly don’t know for sure.

    First of all, my friend Tom does not have a Microsoft Outlook account or Franklin planner. The insinuation of such is, in fact, quite amusing. I have a Franklin planner, in which I am now checking off item B13 “Address Troll.”

    Again, what I do know is that Tom, who is quite unlike all Range legislators, but in this regard joins them in talking to business leaders from time to time as business merits. It seems more likely that Range legislators aren’t talking to the business leaders you’d like them to, in which case I’d strongly urge you to identify the people who need talking to and advice extracted from, so that we can have an honest conversation about this. Anything else is a partisan straw man contest.

    About the “partisan” comment, maybe you don’t know what I mean when I said what I did. In case you missed it, the Iron Range elects DFL legislators pretty reliably. They didn’t always, and won’t forever, but they do now. What I mean when I say that our political battles are parochial and not partisan is that I don’t see a lot of GOP vs. DFL battles on the Range, rather factions vs. factions. Some of these factions are vaguely conservative and others vaguely liberal, and still other times they are neither, rather they are purely clannish battles of families vs. families. Again, I don’t know who you are and where you live, but if you see something different please let me know. I am being very honest with you, a good deal more honest than I need to be. I’d respect you a lot more if you identified yourself. My name and affiliations are well known and I stand by all of them.

  5. Hi Aaron.

    It often seems to me that in regard to economic development, the very first word out of the mouths of our economic development partners is “How many jobs?”

    I don’t know, but it seems to me that is the wrong question to be asked. It would be so much more useful to start the conversation with “So what’s your idea, show me your plan, what makes your product so special” almost ANYTHING other than worrying about how many jobs are involved. If the idea is good, the execution is good, and the product is good, the number of jobs might end up being a whole lot more than anyone could forsee.

    When the focus is entirely on the number of jobs involved, we tend to focus on the big industrial giants rather than the small businesses that we know, historically, have been the great engine of economic growth.

    It just seems a disturbing habit we have here in this part of the state. All of us, for I include myself in sometimes thinking we should not waste our time with “little” projects.

    I think we all could benefit from working hard to stimulate small business growth in the area, especially small businesses that have roots in something different than timber, tourism and taconite. Wouldn’t that be refreshing!

    And I understand that partners in our economic development agencies will say “But we do work on that!” And they might, but even so, those big projects sure do seem to overwhelm the little guys.

    Anyway, just my thoughts.

  6. Steve- Thanks for the thoughts. I very much agree with you. Lip service is often paid to small business, but “big dollars” often end up going to big projects. Several hundred thousand out of the IRRRB or city budgets might go to small business development, but millions go to things like Essar, Excelsior or the like. The bigger problem is “sunk costs.” Once a big project gets big funding, no one in power is willing (or able) to admit if a mistake was made, so more money is allocated, not less.

    I say again that the Iron Range has available economic capital unlike any region of its kind. We should be showing what can be done with this gift, rather than having it shown to us by a bunch of charlatans.

  7. Agreed.

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