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Duluth, St. Louis County to take Capitol by storm

More than 500 business leaders, students, local elected officials and other residents of Duluth and St. Louis County will converge on the Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday and Thursday to plead the cause for a variety of Northland projects.

More than 500 business leaders, students, local elected officials and other residents of Duluth and St. Louis County will converge on the Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday and Thursday to plead the cause for a variety of Northland projects.

The 15th annual Duluth and St. Louis County Days at the Capitol, organized by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, starts with a bus caravan to St. Paul and lobbying in the Capitol. It includes a huge reception Wednesday evening at the Crown Plaza St. Paul Riverfront Hotel and ends with a Thursday breakfast with Gov. Mark Dayton as the keynote speaker.

It's the longest-running community-based advocacy effort at the Capitol, organizers say.

This year's sales pitch is aimed mostly at the state's construction package that lawmakers and the governor will put together in coming weeks. Every other year the state compiles a package of projects called the bonding bill, and this year's probably will include more than $500 million for schools, arenas, convention centers, government buildings and public facilities.

Duluth and St. Louis County are seeking money for the American Indian studies building at the University of Minnesota Duluth; a Duluth Transit Authority intermodal hub in downtown Duluth, across Fifth Avenue from the Depot; continued funding of the state wastewater fund for Western Lake Superior Sanitary District projects; and $4 million for a major renovation of Wade Stadium.

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"Last year, it was about policy and saying thanks, and this year it's all about the bonding bill,'' said David Ross, Chamber president. "We went through a pretty elaborate process to come up with our priorities so we are all on the same page."

The event, one of the Chamber's biggest undertakings of the year, is a visible reminder to lawmakers from across Minnesota that Duluth and St. Louis County are a big part of the state's economy despite being 150 miles from the Capitol, Ross said.

Decades ago, Duluth's civic leaders invited busloads of lawmakers north, wined and dined them, and gave them a weekend's fun at hockey games, concerts and Spirit Mountain. The payback was supposedly greater recognition of and support for Duluth's needs for state-funded projects.

Because of ethics regulations, those days are over. But the Duluth Days event brings the same message south, Ross said.

State Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, said the mass lobbying event helps him and other local legislators sell local projects to the state's 201 lawmakers.

"It's pretty well-received. They (legislators) learn a lot at Duluth Days,'' Gauthier said. "I think it has a lot of impact when they see the support coming from the across the community and not just from one lobbyist or from (Duluth lawmakers). They pay attention to that broader support."

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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