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Setting goals for the region's economy in 2018

Two salties, Diana (foreground) and Zealand Delilah, sit stuck in the ice about 2.25 miles from the Duluth Ship Canal in 2014. (News Tribune file photo)

Fortunes are made and lost trying to predict what will happen in the complex machinery of the economy. Even at a local level, an unseen butterfly effect can alter the course of development and growth for years to come.

Enough with predictions, then. What are the plans for the new year?

"The state's forecast is for modest growth, but we'd like to see stronger," said Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. "As we look at the state, innovation and our workforce are our assets, but also something we need to protect for the future."

Preparing a future workforce and enticing more skilled workers to make Minnesota their home; boosting capital investment; and making use of a seismic shift in the federal tax code will all help Minnesota control its economic destiny, Loon said.

"We hope the Legislature will take advantage of that and make changes that will propel growth and make sure we have a competitive tax structure," he said.

Locally, here's a look at what a few key industries are thinking heading into 2018.

Mining

Kelsey Johnson

Kelsey Johnson, president of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota

Goals: In 2018, the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota aims to grow its membership and become an even stronger voice for the supporters of Minnesota's dedicated, responsible, innovative iron mining industry. We will also work to ensure that all our members — the thousands of men and women who work in iron mines, businesses large and small that supply goods and services to the industry, and those who don't work in the industry but want to show their support — have a prosperous new year.

New opportunities: We've been mining iron ore for more than 130 years in Minnesota, but not always through the same process. First we mined underground, and now we mine in open pits. First we mined red ore, and now we mine taconite. We've been making pellets for decades now, but many facilities have their eye on direct-reduced iron (DRI) production. Most notably, Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. recently announced $75 million upcoming upgrades for its Northshore Mining facility to create DRI-grade pellets.

What to build on from 2017: We'd like to see as many people working in our industry as possible. Each of the running iron mines were hiring in 2017, and we'd love to see the still-idled facilities up and running to join that trend. Industrywide our members continue to work toward zero injuries as safety is a core value for the industry.

What to leave in 2017: We hope to leave the fallacy of industry vs. environment in 2017. Minnesota has some of the strongest environmental regulations in the nation — maybe the world — and Minnesota's iron mining industry is proud to meet those regulations, because environment stewardship is also a core value for the industry. Each facility has a full-time staff dedicated to ensure Minnesota's iron mines operate in a responsible way. Industry and its supporters do not object to regulations that protect the environment; what they object to is duplicative or ineffective regulations that are unfeasible or have not been proven to protect the environment.

Housing

Maranda DeSanto

Maranda DeSanto, CEO of Lake Superior Area Realtors

Goals: Add additional owner-occupied housing units to our market. We saw a 10 percent drop in homes for sale across our market in 2017, a number we'd rather not see repeated.

New opportunities: Grassroots advocacy. People may not initially realize how decisions at the local, state and national level affect their well-being, but many issues that directly affect home ownership are taking center stage. Do the research and form your own opinion. Then take your message to those making the decisions. They will be glad to hear from you!

What to build on from 2017: Partnerships and common-sense growth initiatives. We've increasingly seen the public, nonprofit and private sectors, as well as individuals in the community, come together to discuss ways we can all work together to make the Northland the place people want to live.

What to leave in 2017: Multiple-offer situations. While they may lead to a great resale for the seller, they can also lead to additional stress and heartbreak for those who missed out. We are still seeing indicators of pent-up demand and will likely see some of these buyers come back in 2018.

The port

Vanta E. Coda III

Vanta Coda III, CEO of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority

Goals: Here at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority and Duluth Cargo Connect, we will remain diligent in building up the real estate and logistics facets of our business. We will concentrate on solidifying initiatives undertaken in 2017: Growing our intermodal container service across multiple business sectors; moving forward an ICIC study to analyze and benchmark Duluth's industrial economy to build a more diversified business community; and investing in our tenant's expansion efforts. Altec Industries has made a huge commitment to this city. We will help make that company's expansion efforts come to fruition on our Clure Public Terminal.

New opportunities/What to build on from 2017: Our mission charges us with the responsibility of bringing business to the Port and economic development to the region. We will continue to maximize our visibility as a maritime location, especially with our new $18 million terminal expansion now in service. By reaching out to shippers in the manufacturing, mining, agriculture, forest products, energy and retail sectors, we will continue to build traffic through our CN Duluth Intermodal Terminal. The mix of containers already has exceeded first-year projections, and we expect numbers to triple before the end of 2018. Through our connectivity with road, rail and water corridors that span the continent, we make this region globally competitive. By continuing to improve and expand our service offerings, we set a platform for industrial development ... attracting new companies and incentivizing business expansions in our community and region which, in turn, strengthens workforce development initiatives.

What to leave in 2017: We don't plan to leave anything behind in 2017. It was a great year for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, for Duluth Cargo Connect and for the port of Duluth-Superior as a whole. Along with notable business expansions and new service offerings, overall tonnage through the port is running nearly 20 percent ahead of last year, carried forward by a strong surge in domestic and international shipments of iron ore. All in all, the working waterfront has set a strong foundation upon which to build anew in the year ahead.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

(218) 723-5329
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