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Economic Development Director's View: 'Solidly optimistic' about economic growth for Duluth

I am solidly optimistic about Duluth's economic growth in 2018. The trend data pertaining to our regional GDP and industry sectors, combined with input gleaned from the city's business leaders and real estate developers, are informative indicators. And these indicators lean toward optimism.

Heather RandWe can be confident that Duluth's economic market is and will continue to be stable if we are able to grow many diverse types of businesses, meet the workforce challenges of those diverse and growing businesses, and find solutions to the housing gaps and other needs of that workforce.

The recent downturn in mining impacted Duluth's professional and business services, transportation, construction, and energy sectors. It was our growth in education, health care, manufacturing, housing development, tourism, and retail services that provided Duluth with economic stability.

It is encouraging to see our city and broader regional economy trending on a positive trajectory again. An example is Altec, which manufactures specialized aerial lift trucks and which is looking to expand its physical presence and workforce by 100 people at its Duluth facility. In addition, new and existing manufacturers are hiring in the Waseca Industrial Park, in the Oneota Industrial Park, and at the Duluth Airpark. This growth is spurring solid commercial and residential real estate development throughout our city.

Our strong transportation network continues to provide Duluth a competitive edge. Thanks to recent investments by Cirrus Aircraft, AAR, Monaco Air, the Duluth International Airport, and their suppliers, Duluth continues to stand out as an impressive aviation hub. The city continues to work in partnership with Lake Superior College and these employers to develop local talent to fill 200-plus currently vacant aviation-sector positions.

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority's new Cargo Connect, a visionary transportation logistics service targeting heavy bulk and cargo, also will add employment opportunities that have not been truly comprehended yet by most.

A creative economy supports the quality of life our residents and visitors enjoy. Our artisan and craft movement now has reached a sound footing not only in Lincoln Park but citywide. This is further evidenced by the Feb. 1 reopening of the historic Norshor Theatre and an anticipated spring opening of the restored West Theatre in Spirit Valley.

As our industry sectors grow, we continue to face housing challenges. The city's 2017 Housing Action Framework identified the need for 290 units of subsidized housing and 2,024 market-rate rental units in addition to 755 single-family homes. Thankfully, solid progress is being achieved. In 2018, 160 new workforce multi-unit apartments are scheduled to come online in the Miller Hill Mall area. In addition, construction on rental-unit projects is anticipated in three West Duluth neighborhoods. These projects will bring more than $56 million of private investment into Duluth and add construction jobs.

In 2018, the city looks forward to advancing redevelopment projects on the waterfront at Lot D, commencing with a reconstruction of Superior Street, supporting the continued transformation of the downtown H.A.R.T. (Historic Arts and Theater) District, and reclaiming brownfield sites.

In 2018, the public will see the city continuing to focus on bolstering the growth of manufacturing, our skilled workforce, and small businesses with special events. The city and several area partners are working to launch a first-of-its-kind regional workforce solutions series. It's to kick off Feb. 13. And in the spring, the second-annual Mayor's Small Business Resource Summit will be held to connect entrepreneurs to savvy business experts and resources.

Duluth will experience continued success in 2018 thanks to our community's spirited entrepreneurs, visionary leaders, and steadfast partners who work hard to face challenges and find smart solutions for a better Duluth.

Heather Rand is director of business and economic development for the city of Duluth. She wrote this at the request of the News Tribune Opinion page.

About this series

The News Tribune Opinion page asked community leaders to look into their crystal balls and to share their insights into what the new year might bring.

Monday: City of Duluth

Tuesday: St. Louis County

Wednesday: Duluth school district

Thursday: Minnesota Legislature

Friday: Northland economy

Saturday: Downtown

Sunday: Washington, D.C.

Monday: Tourism

Join the conversation: What do you see in your crystal ball? Letters to the editor can be directed to letters@duluthnews.com.

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