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Enthusiasm runs high; cooperation is the key

A spirit of cooperation and inclusion of diverse ideas are vital to developing a long-term plan to revitalize the Northland's economy. Those themes were repeated often during the first day of the Mayor's Economic Summit in Duluth Wednesday. They ...

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A spirit of cooperation and inclusion of diverse ideas are vital to developing a long-term plan to revitalize the Northland's economy.
Those themes were repeated often during the first day of the Mayor's Economic Summit in Duluth Wednesday.
They were themes many of the more than 500 participants were ready to hear.
"Whether I am speaking for the power cooperative or for me as an individual, I have a vested interest in a vibrant regional economy," said John Heino, general manager of Lake Country Power, located in Grand Rapids. "We have so many similarities across our region, and we all ask, 'How can we develop our economies so our young people can stay here if they choose.' I think the speakers who spoke to the fact that economic development is regional were right on."
Superior Mayor Sharon Kotter said the summit is an opportunity for communities to learn how to complement each other to add jobs and industries to the region.
"We can learn about the strengths that Duluth has, and we can work off of them," she said. "In the aviation industry, we have an airport, and we want to learn what kind of company we could attract that could complement (Duluth-based airplane manufacturer) Cirrus Design."
Technology was a summit topic of interest to Bayfield Mayor Larry McDonald.
"We have the quality of life here that people want, and technology will allow them to bring their jobs here," he said. "I believe information technology is the key to the short, medium and long-term future of this area, but we have to have collaboration and a willingness to cross state lines."
Cheryl Spragg, president and CEO of the Virginia-Mountain Iron-Gilbert Area Chamber of Commerce, learned from the session on health care that the area could be a potential market for new jobs.
"I was surprised to learn we were so short on health care supply businesses, and that could be a future business for the region," she said, especially in light of the fact that Blue Cross, Blue Shield is moving a health insurance center to the Range. "We have hospitals, we now have health care insurance, and we could attract health care supply businesses."
Lisa Radosevich Pattni, northern Minnesota director for Sen. Paul Wellstone, said she was listening when several presenters made a link between education and economic development.
"I was happy to hear speakers say we need a strong K through 12 education system to create new jobs," she said. "This should be very important in Duluth, and in Virginia, where both communities defeated their excess levy referendums."
Some participants came to make sure their agendas were included in the summit.
When David Kidwell, dean emeritus and professor of finance at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, said a community needs "cool factor," complete with coffee shops and other youth-oriented businesses to attract young people to an area, that was just what Susan Phillips wanted to hear. A member of the Armory Arts and Music Center Committee, Phillips attended the summit to ensure "that arts and music, the kind of things that keep young, high-tech workers in the community, are recognized as being important."
Many speakers echoed the theme that the key to the future lies in keeping the area's educated youth.
Duluth City Councilor Donny Ness, who is also founder of the Bridge Syndicate, said he was heartened to see young people participating in the summit.
"City leaders have given us the opportunity to be full partners in this process," he said. "Young people have to step up to the plate and do something. It is a two-way street."
"As long as we have people who care, we really have an opportunity," said St. Louis County Commissioner Dennis Fink.

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