Welcoming new strategies for northern Minnesota’s future

A couple northern Minnesota stories caught my eye this week and I’m here to argue that they’re related.

First, there’s this Ron Brochu story from Business North about Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Tony Sertich speaking in Duluth. Brochu picked up on a subtle quote that shows the substantive change in policy Sertich has sought to enact since becoming commissioner:

“I would rather create two jobs at 50 small businesses than find one new business with 50 jobs,” said the former Minnesota state legislator. “We’re looking to turn our eyes inward, looking more at our existing businesses and asking ‘How can we help you grow?’ We need to be more strategic. We need to leverage existing relationships more.”

You build success from the ground up. Magical solutions will not appear, and big projects will fail in roughly a proportional rate to their “fancifulness.” How about we conserve and direct our resources toward quantifiable success and community growth?

Then there was this Dan Kraker story on Minnesota Public Radio, “Duluth not welcoming, young transplants looking for work say.” While the evidence of Duluth’s “unwelcoming” attitude seems based on the opinions of a handful of college students having trouble getting hired, the story does show Duluth’s efforts to change its course.

To help build Duluth’s talent base, the city needs nothing less than a fundamental change in its culture, Mayor Don Ness said.

“I think there has been, at least traditionally, a sense in Duluth that we’re not a community that wants to grow, or we’re a community that doesn’t believe that we can grow,’ said Ness, 38. “That’s what we’re trying to change in Duluth.” 

I don’t think true Gen Y transients are necessarily ever going to have a perfect experience in northern Minnesota. It’s just too cold in the winter, for one, and come on … grow up. Big Bird won’t be around to make things easy for you everywhere you go. Create your own community value. Entrenched interests will never willingly change the culture; rather, a handful of visionaries simply need to invite the kinds of elements that will introduce change. These new people will need to be active, not passive, members of the community.

Combining what Tony Sertich said in Duluth about the interconnectedness of the Range and Duluth with the young professional outreach in the Duluth story, we see a shared problem. In fact, not only should the Range be included in the “unwelcoming” discussion, but our problems up here are considerably more difficult. With older demographics and a dogged determination by leaders to more or less keep everything the way it is, young professionals on the Range face more challenges. Heck, we don’t even have Trampled by Turtles.

On that subject, I will go out on a limb and say that the progressive bluegrass band Trampled by Turtles is a pretty good example of a way forward. A homegrown, self-made success story this band has grown to national prominence while maintaining hearty Duluth roots. This sort of thing can be done, you know. There are many glorious things about northern Minnesota, inspirations that can propel people toward creativity.

With that, I must share today’s story about Mayor Ness’s crowd surfing fail at Trampled by Turtles Day in Minneapolis. It also rings of metaphor on this day.

How about Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak looking like a festival pro? Nice. But at least Don TRIED to crowd surf. There is great importance in this.


  1. You’re a bit closer to the action, Aaron, but from what I’ve seen Don Ness has been an uncommonly effective — and popular — mayor. There does seem to be a civic renaissance of sorts taking place in Duluth, and it doesn’t hurt that the mundane things (pothole and sewer repair) are getting done, too.

    An aside: Did you notice Zygi picking R.T.’s pockets during hizzoner’s big moment?

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