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Walz calls for collaboration in Duluth

Gov. Tim Walz (left) and Mayor Emily Larson watch a video at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation's (LISC) Annual Luncheon Celebration at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Wednesday. Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 3
Gov. Tim Walz speaks at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation's (LISC) Annual Luncheon Celebration at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Wednesday. Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 3
LISC CEO Maurice A. Jones speaks at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation's (LISC) annual luncheon celebration at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Wednesday. Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 3

Gov. Tim Walz and his wife Gwen named their firstborn daughter Hope.

"We think it's the most powerful word in the universe," he explained to a crowd Wednesday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

"But it is not a plan. You have to not just hope that the future will get better, hope that the jobs will stay here, hope that we can untangle the roads or hope that we can build a bridge. You need to plan for it. And you plan by collaborating."

The governor called for private and public partnerships to improve health care, transportation, employment and business opportunities in a 10-minute keynote address at the annual luncheon celebration of the Duluth Local Initiatives Support Corp.

"We can choose to write the same old story or we can choose to write a little different one," Walz told the crowd of more than 300 people at the Harborside Ballroom.

Duluth LISC, the local branch of a national organization, has invested more than $105 million in affordable housing, small business and commercial revitalization projects since it was founded in 1997, officials said.

In recent years, that has included support for the Steve O'Neil Apartments in the city's Central Hillside, investment in the NorShore Theatre and St. Louis River corridor, and a number of initiatives to improve the Lincoln Park Business District.

That work has impressed Maurice Jones, the national president and CEO of LISC.

"Every place that we go, when you look at the heart of the population that is hardest hit, there is an overlap between that and people of color," said Jones, a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"So, we have been working with places to make sure that they are making targeted efforts to ensure that folks of color, however big or however small that population is in your city, are getting the opportunities that they need to thrive," Jones said. "And that goes from workforce to housing to you name it. Most of the great places where we work recognize that they can't afford to have any segment of their population left behind."

As Walz prepares for a budget showdown with Senate Republicans in the final weeks of the state's legislative session, he made little mention of specific projects that could stand to benefit from state money.

But the governor suggested there could be more common ground than most people think.

"You know how to get people's attention?" he asked. "Talk about potholes. You'll get their attention. I don't say that because it's cute or funny or anything like that. It's the reality of solving and improving lives. (LISC) proves that it can be done. We believe that that model is out there."

A half-cent sales tax approved by Duluth voters in 2017 to create a street-improvement fund is among the issues before the Legislature — though Walz has called for a statewide gas-tax increase that would cover those repairs another transportation expenditures.

Walz did identify one specific goal in his address: to eliminate homelessness among the state's veterans by Veteran's Day.

He said homelessness in southwestern Minnesota has been reduced to "functional zero" thanks to collaborative efforts of more than 30 federal, state and local governmental and non-governmental agencies.

"There's lessons we're learning from this that can be extrapolated to do other things," Walz said. "That's what smart government should do. That's what smart communities should do. That's what smart, innovative collaboratives should do."

The luncheon also served as an opportunity for LISC to recognize two organizations with its Building Healthy Community Awards.

Center City Housing Corp. and the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Organization were honored for their partnership to transform the former Seaway Hotel into a permanent supportive housing facility and build the nearby Garfield Square Apartments, which are set to open this fall.

Ecolibrium3 and the Zeitgeist Center for Arts and Community were recognized for work to reduce poverty and improve quality-of-life in the Lincoln Park and Hillside neighborhoods, which have substantial income and life-expectancy disparities.

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