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Duluth to be one of three State Patrol dispatch centers

Duluth has been selected as one of three 911 emergency call centers that will handle State Patrol dispatch duties now done from cities statewide.

It remains unclear how many jobs the expanded dispatch center will bring to Duluth and how much construction and renovation work will need to be done.

The State Patrol announced to its employees Wednesday and publicly confirmed Thursday that Duluth and Rochester will join Roseville as the patrol's three consolidated Public Safety Answering Points in the state, replacing centers in Virginia, Thief River Falls, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Marshall, Mankato and St. Cloud.

Lt. Matt Langer of the State Patrol in St. Paul said that plans are in the infancy stage. "Basically, now that the two sites are identified, we can move forward in earnest and find how much it's going to cost to get those two sites up and operational," Langer said. "One of the challenges is that we have to try to take care of employees who work in those sites that will eventually close. It's not happening overnight."

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed an executive order in January charging a work group with developing a comprehensive strategy for regionally based Public Safety Answering Points to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service.

Langer said the number of troopers in the Duluth district shouldn't change, but Capt. Steve Stromback, who supervises the Duluth district, said the number of dispatchers needed will increase. The size of the new building and the costs associated with it haven't been determined.

"It's good news for the Duluth district and the Duluth area," Stromback said. "I view it as a definite positive. We're the largest city in northern Minnesota and to have this kind of center here is a good fit."

The center will be at the Thompson Hill rest stop, where troopers have a station office. That facility will require significant renovation, Stromback said.

Langer estimated that it would take at least two years to have the "Next Generation 911" consolidated system up and running.

Rep. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said there had been some concern that Duluth could lose its call center.

"It's great that we're retaining our site and folks in Duluth are not losing their jobs," he said. "The expansion in Duluth will mean more local jobs and more building. So this is really good news for that reason alone."

Reinert said Duluth could have its foot in the door to be a lead contender on future "backshop" state work such as data storage and paperwork processing.

"We have the work force, the quality of life, the technology and infrastructure to be a great candidate for all those other things that have been done in the Twin Cities," Reinert said. "As we lobby for more things in St. Paul, this might be a harbinger of more good things to come."