Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Congratulations, Duluth!

If you've been reading My Minnesota more than very sporadically, you may have noticed that Duluth is one of my favorite cities. That seems to be becoming true for more and more people these days, and The Atlantic magazine has a fantastic article about why that makes a lot of sense. Duluth is cited as a leading example of How America Is Putting Itself Back Together, an article that should be, I believe, mandatory reading for every member of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, and would provide helpful insights for every Minnesotan who thinks that a return to the "good old days" of past dependence on extractive industries like mining and industrial agriculture offer hope of a better tomorrow. One of the quotes in the article that caught my eye, and that warrants serious consideration by economic development specialists follow this photo of Duluth harbor:

Duluth harbor
Duluth harbor
Photo by J. Harrington
"John Dearie, a co-author (with Courtney Geduldig) of Where the Jobs Are, argues that new-business formation is the single most important guide to future employment trends. This is because of the unlikely-sounding but true economic observation that, over the decades, all the net new job growth within the U.S. economy has come from firms in their first five years of existence (and mainly from fast-growing ones in their very first year)."
I've long been enthusiastic about Economic Gardening as an economic and community development strategy, although I have my doubts about the viability of consistently identifying, in advance, which businesses (the gazelles) are going to be "fast-growing ones in their very first year."

Of particular interest to the IRRRB folks might be this description of an area in Mississippi:
"When we first visited early last year, Joe Max Higgins took us to the most modern “mini-mill” for producing steel in North America, in the Golden Triangle industrial zone. This “mini” structure is what most lay observers would consider to be unimaginably vast. Ladles that appeared to be the size of 747s transported burbling loads of molten metal. The cooling line for the endless stream of new sheet metal stretched thousands of feet, under one roof. Mountains of scrap metal, from recycling shops and auto junkyards, sat outside the mill, raw material for the new steel to be made inside. This was the closest I have come in the United States to the experience of major factory life in China—and it was in rural Mississippi, where a racially mixed workforce of almost 700 earned a median wage of more than $80,000. A Russian-owned company invested more than $1.5 billion to build this plant starting in 2005. Steel Dynamics, based in Indiana, bought it two years ago and is expanding production. Now it is only one of several major high-wage manufacturers in the area."
That description reads to me as a hell of a lot better development strategy than hoping for a turnaround based on "350 high-paying mining jobs" and it probably creates less pollution. Back in the days when I was a practicing planner, I learned the dictum that "more of the same never solved a problem." Now that I'm a recovering planner, I wonder why so many of our elected officials in Minnesota continue to believe the contrary? Where in Minnesota has that worked well? Anyhow, it's really encouraging to see some positive media coverage about what's going right in our country and our state, especially when it calls attention to a place I've long admired. You can get a different, but similarly glowing, report on Duluth and northeast Minnesota from this McKnight-commissioned Jay Walljasper report. These reports make it clear to me that there are better ways than mining to keep any Minnesota child from being

The Gatekeeper’s Children

By Philip Levine
This is the house of the very rich.
You can tell because it’s taken all
The colors and left only the spaces
Between colors where the absence
Of rage and hunger survives. If you could
Get close you could touch the embers
Of red, the tiny beaks of yellow,
That jab back, the sacred blue that mimics
The color of heaven. Behind the house
The children digging in the flower beds
Have been out there since dawn waiting
To be called in for hot chocolate or tea
Or the remnants of meals. No one can see
Them, even though children are meant
To be seen, and these are good kids
Who go on working in silence.
They’re called the gatekeeper’s children,
Though there is no gate nor—of course—
Any gatekeeper, but if there were
These would be his, the seven of them,
Heads bowed, knifing the earth. Is that rain,
Snow, or what smearing their vision?
Remember, in the beginning they agreed
To accept a sky that answered nothing,
They agreed to lower their eyes, to accept
The gifts the hard ground hoarded.
Even though they were only children
They agreed to draw no more breath
Than fire requires and yet never to burn.


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