Mayor Ness lays out plan to increase Duluth’s population to 90,000On the second day of his second term, Mayor Don Ness renewed his call to grow Duluth’s population to 90,000 by 2020.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
On the second day of his second term, Mayor Don Ness renewed his call to grow Duluth’s population to 90,000 by 2020.
Ness unveiled what he called his “prosperity agenda” to an audience at the Kitchi Gammi Club on Tuesday afternoon, saying the keys to growth will include new and better-paying jobs, access to affordable housing and a well-trained work force.
“If we can move the needle on those variables, our city will become more prosperous,” Ness said in a broad-sweeping and familiar-themed speech to members of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. He said the city needs to make a compelling case to prospective residents, both young and old, that Duluth is the place to be.
The last U.S. Census count in 2010 showed the number of people who called Duluth home essentially held flat for the decade. The total population count was 86,265, down just 54 from the year 2000.
Ness said holding steady won’t cut it in the future.
“We can’t be satisfied with stagnation any more, because we’re falling behind other communities,” he said.
Looking back, Ness noted that Duluth’s last real growth spurt occurred between 1910 and 1950, with the population peaking at about 106,000 in the 1960s.
After the closures of a steel mill and a U.S. Air Force Base, Duluth’s
population slumped. And simply stabilizing the city was a big accomplishment, Ness said. He noted that other cities, such as Flint, Mich., and Gary, Ind., have been less successful at stemming the departure of residents.
Ness said Duluth’s situation has much improved since the 1980s, when its unemployment rate climbed to nearly 20 percent, making it second only to Newark, N.J. Today, the mayor said Duluth’s 5.5 percent unemployment has remained equal to or lower than the statewide rate.
Ness acknowledged that pushing Duluth’s population north of 90,000 people will be an ambitious task.
“That’s more growth than we’ve seen since 1910 to 1920, yet I believe it’s achievable,” he said.
Ness joked that he’s doing his part. He and his wife, Laura, welcomed the birth of their third child in February.
“I told Laura, ‘It’s not that I don’t want to get a vasectomy, but this is really important,’ ” Ness joked, quickly adding that if the city’s population reaches 90,000, it won’t be because of him.
Ness takes encouragement from the growing number of young people who live in Duluth. The city’s median age fell from 35.4 in 2000 to 33.6 in 2010. If the median age of residents continued to trend upward, Ness said Duluth ran the risk of becoming “a dying community.”
Ness speculated that people have responded to the city’s increasingly vibrant arts scene, its natural beauty and recreational opportunities. He noted recent efforts to enhance and connect the city’s network of trails.
“More young people are coming for school, and they’re staying,” Ness said.
He described sensing a new spirit of optimism in Duluth and asked residents to build on it.
“If we reach 90,000 by 2020, future leaders will look back and say: That’s the moment Duluth changed, and that change allowed for its growth,” Ness said.