Mayor: City hits a growth spurt

Several recent statistics that point to a brightening economy in the Twin Ports were cause enough for Duluth Mayor Don Ness to call a celebratory news conference Thursday afternoon.

Several recent statistics that point to a brightening economy in the Twin Ports were cause enough for Duluth Mayor Don Ness to call a celebratory news conference Thursday afternoon.


“In recent years, we’ve had a general sense of optimism and progress in the city of Duluth, and now we’re seeing this play out with hard data. It’s really exciting to see proof that Duluth is a city on the rise,” he said

Ness pointed to the latest figures from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development that show Duluth’s unemployment fell to 4.3 percent in August - the lowest level the city has seen since December 2006.

He noted that August isn’t typically the strongest month for employment in the city either, with September, October and the holiday season usually bringing more jobs to Duluth. Compared with other Augusts, this year’s marks the lowest unemployment rate since 2001.


Ness also cited improved job opportunities throughout the Duluth-Superior metropolitan statistical area - including Douglas, St. Louis and Carlton counties. From July to August, the number of people working in the private sector in those three counties rose by 534, bringing the total headcount to 109,930.

“In terms of private-sector employment, that is an all-time high for our region,” Ness said.

Meanwhile, the number of new unemployment insurance claims filed in the metro area fell to 788 - a volume that is more than 100 claims lower than the previous best recorded in July 1999

The earning power of Twin Ports area workers has been growing, too. Ness pointed out that local jobs in the private sector now pay an average hourly wage of $24.89 - about 10 percent more than last year

“We’re seeing growth in the number of jobs, growth in income, and we’re seeing that translate into new retail opportunities. We’re seeing that translate into housing pressure that will result in housing growth in coming years. And then we’ll see population growth,” Ness predicted.

Ness contends that recent developments bode well for the realization of one of his campaign pledges.

“I feel confident that, based on the success that we’ve seen in these numbers, we will be seeing significant population growth. And we are on track to reach to reach our goal of 90,000 residents by 2020,” he said.

Ness also took encouragement from a growing demographic. He noted that from 2009 to 2013, the number of people between age 25 and 34 living in Duluth grew by one-quarter.


“These are the folks who are getting their first professional jobs. These are the folks who have not yet bought their first home but will buy their first home. These are the folks who have not yet started a family but will be starting a family. That is a sign of a healthy economy. That’s going to move our economy forward,” he said.

The recent strengthening of area employment figures comes as no surprise to Craig Olson, president of the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council.

“Our men and women who work in the construction industry have seen this coming for the last six months,” he said.

“Our benches are exhausted,” Olson said. “We have probably record apprenticeships for young men and women in the community who we have been put out to work. So there have been a lot of new jobs in our industry.”

As for the outlook, Olson said: “The indications that I’m getting from our developers and contractors and partners is that next year looks just as strong. So we continue to look forward to the growth of this community and being a part of it.”

David Ross, president of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, said the latest data is consistent with what he has been hearing in the business community.

“These numbers confirm and affirm what we have felt and observed in recent years,” he said. “We are so excited to see this be a place of opportunity for young professionals.”

Ness also cited a recent analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by an outfit called NerdWallet. It ranked Duluth the 15th-fastest growing city in the nation, based on the population of working-age residents, the number of people in the local workforce and recent growth in workers’ median income. 

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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