MPR: The lesson in Superior’s surprising economic win streak

I have the commentary on this morning, a discussion of the recent economic success in Superior, Wisconsin, and its meaning for the entire region, including here in northern Minnesota. As an added bonus it includes a poem I wrote in creative writing class at the University of Wisconsin-SUPERIOR. The easy, breezy relationship between Superior and the Range should be nothing to fear.

Read and, if inclined, recommend or comment on the piece. It helps them know that publishing this lowly Iron Ranger is good for business. It’s also pledge week over at MPR.


  1. Aaron
    As Rangers go, you’re a wonderful writer. However you entitle this blog commentary (which will come and go as quickly as the passing of a day), “The lesson”. What is “The lesson?”

    You state – “One could be tempted to say that some economic development geniuses must have struck gold in Sup-town.” Ok..tell us more.

    You state – “Several factors combined to create this situation” (Superiors success). Yet you mention one thing, “low real estate values, zoned for manner of activity”. Why can’t Balsam do the same?

    In fact, you follow up with saying “Our real estate prices are low and properties plentiful.” So, a non-issue for Balsam?

    You state – “Superior’s past woes now make ready a number of attractive deals for new businesses,” What the heck does this mean? Hibbing hasn’t had enough economic woes? They can’t “make deals”?

    You state – “The role of regulation in commerce remains a tricky debate>” A tricky debate? I think not. Regulations are black and white issues…like all laws.

    You state – “The Iron Range problem is both simple and vexing. We must learn to welcome new people, encourage new ideas and use our strengths to create new economic growth.” If it’s simple, explain. If it’s vexing??, explain. I sense you’re not interested in articulating the issue(s) and propose a solution.

    You state – “The goal can’t be accomplished this year..but in maybe in 10 years?” Now you’ve convinced me you’re not interested. Real world businesses are moving at just a bit faster pace than “decades of time frames”.

    You must be dreaming of times gone by, when ore was natural and unions demanded, and got, 26 week vacations.

    A previous commentator, Charles Rudstrom, said it well – “Rather than guess about why these new companys have located in Superior, maybe you ought to simply ask the companys…. interview the company presidents, the board of directors, ask them what their reasons were/are for choosing Superior.”

    In addition to a wonderful writer, you might be a great professor.

    However as a source of “The Lesson” as to why businesses are going to Superior verses Duluth, Balsam or Hibbing, well…..don’t quit your day job. Not your fault though, writers and academians never were known for their business acumen.

  2. Good evening, Bob. C.O. Rudstrom is a friend of mine and he raised a good point in his comment. What do the businesses say? I’ll leave aside Magnetation because the machinations are still going on and there remains a chance the Range could prevail there. More on that in due time.

    Exodus is already located in Superior and got a big contract; so that one makes sense. Kestrel is a new company and they cited the “positive” environment of Superior. And that’s all fine. What that means is low cost and helpful city connections. Why didn’t they build up by the airport in Duluth? I don’t know for certain, but the available land in Superior would be attractive to me, despite my woeful possession of an advanced degree, if I were starting an airplane business.

    Most off your points seem to be overreactions to some very obvious statements on my part. Real estate? First of all, have you perused the real estate section of a Range paper? City properties are selling at a third of what they go for in the metro area. Some city land could be acquired for free. Buildings could be acquired for a pittance, compared to other areas. That’s one of my central points and I think you can understand that. This is one of the great underused selling points of doing business up here. Low prices and low cost of living.

    Rural properties and lake properties are more desirable and valuable. But there is no public policy role in that. I only know I couldn’t have afforded to live out here if we didn’t have family land. I think you only bring it up because you were being cute. That’s OK. I do that sometimes, too.

    Regulations are tricky. You are balancing the shared interests of a community with the rights of individuals and businesses. They are only “black and white” if you disregard one side of that equation.

    Ten years was an abstract number that I put out there. I think setting the goal of a vibrant economic climate on the Iron Range within 10 years is POSSIBLE which is why I said it. I live in and around the institutions of this place and I’m interested in actually changing them, not just vilifying or bitching about them. Immediate changes would be needed to bring about a long term goal. I work on many things that I think would help, but would gladly welcome others to work on what THEY think would help.

    The problem, and you and I have agreed on this in the past, is ATTITUDE. How do you change the attitude of a place, of hundreds of political and local leaders? It is a crisis of leadership and my argument is that we have some options on the Range that Superior is demonstrating in their success.

    There are good and bad business ideas, good and bad academic ideas and good and bad writing. I’ve participated in all of the above. There is a way forward, and I’m open to suggestions.

    I think that’s clear enough. I might not move at your pace or in the direction you want, but that’s what I’m thinking.

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