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Lt. Gov. Smith stops by Duluth for business chat

As Duluth's business brain trust gathered high above downtown on Friday, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith stopped by for a roundtable discussion with the local leaders.

021817.N.DNT.SmithC1 Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, second from left, listens on as Ian Vincent of APEX talks about the area's economy Friday at LHB in Duluth. A group of area business and civic leaders gathered to talk shop with Smith, who was visiting as part of her Innovate Minnesota campaign. Brooks Johnson / bjohnson@duluthnews.com
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, second from left, listens on as Ian Vincent of APEX talks about the area's economy Friday at LHB in Duluth. A group of area business and civic leaders gathered to talk shop with Smith, who was visiting as part of her Innovate Minnesota campaign. Brooks Johnson / bjohnson@duluthnews.com
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As Duluth's business brain trust gathered high above downtown on Friday, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith stopped by for a roundtable discussion with the local leaders.

"Ten years from now there's going to be a company that none of us have heard of yet that will be the fastest growing in Minnesota," Smith said, promoting her Innovate Minnesota campaign. "It could be here. It should be here."

Among the topics touched on at the LHB conference room Friday were workforce recruitment, retention and training, infrastructure, quality of life and broadband investment.

"We're small enough to get things done and big enough to matter," said Duluth Mayor Emily Larson. "I've never had to tell anybody where Duluth is."

But there is the problem of growing or even sustaining the workforce. According to a recent Arrowhead Regional Development Commission study, the regional population is projected to grow by 5,000 people in the next decade, then shrink by 5,000 people in the decade after that.

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The state as a whole and the Twin Cities especially are projected to grow much faster than that in the next 20 years.

"If the jobs are in the Twin Cities there's not a lot we can do," said LHB CEO Bill Bennett.

The city has an interest in increasing its workforce as many residents enter retirement, something it has invested in to a large degree.

"Quality of life is a No. 1 driver of jobs," said Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Mark Phillips. "I think Duluth has done a good job of that."

Smith and business leaders agreed that leveraging available resources - whether it be the colleges, transportation infrastructure or the area's outdoors appeal - will be key to growing the local economy.

"We needed analytics people ... and we weren't able to find them," said Laura Sieger, an associate vice president with Maurices. "We reached out to the University of Minnesota Duluth and they were able to create a program for us."

Brooks Johnson was an enterprise/investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune from 2016 to 2019.
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