Big mag lauds Duluth Mayor Don Ness

Duluth Mayor Don Ness

Mayor Don Ness speaks from a podium sculpted from ice on the steps of Duluth City Hall during his last inauguration.

Twin Cities Business Magazine named Duluth Mayor Don Ness its Person of the Year last week. The Gene Rebeck feature may be found here.

Here’s an excerpt:

Ness points to the vibrancy in Mankato and Rochester, smaller Minnesota cities that have experienced a “virtuous cycle of growth.” By contrast, “Duluth had been in a vicious cycle for decades,” Ness says. “Then we stopped that vicious cycle with tremendous effort by leaders in the ’80s and ’90s.” Now, he adds, “it feels like the city is coming to recognize that fulfilling that potential is possible.”

That said, “I think that we’re at just the very, very beginning stages of that,” he adds. “We’re starting to see some of that positive momentum happening.” Ness’ vision of his hometown would rank it with cities including Bend, Oregon, and Flagstaff, Arizona.—smaller-scale cities that have gained residents in the past 10 years. These are cities with strong educational, economic and cultural amenities that appeal to both old and young.

That is, young residents as well as young tourists. Duluth’s median age has dropped from 35 in 2000 to 33.6 in 2010, which suggests that it is holding on to more of its young people. Organizations including Fuse Duluth and Twin Ports Connex are helping sell the city to younger professional talent.

Not everyone in the city likes this perceived emphasis on a “younger” Duluth, however. Though Ness ran unopposed in 2011, the city’s politics can still be contentious, and many Duluthians (particularly older ones) feel they’ve been socked with tax increases while having to pay thousands out of pocket for water and sewer line repairs. There does seem to be something of an east-west split in the city, with relatively more prosperous East Siders more likely to vote for the recent school levy. Conflict might continue in this fascinating city. But it seems equally likely that more people will take a fresh look at Duluth. And Ness deserves much of the credit.

Check out the whole story, which includes the nugget that Ness might not be planning to stay mayor for much longer. (“Ness doesn’t believe that he’ll still be the mayor when the city achieves [critical economic] momentum”)

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