Survey: Duluth could profit from openness, more nightlife
Want Duluth's economy to grow? Then increase the city's nightlife, improve perceptions of its public schools and become a more tolerant, welcoming community. And while you're at it, capitalize on the area's beauty, the highly regarded colleges an...
Want Duluth's economy to grow?
Then increase the city's nightlife, improve perceptions of its public schools and become a more tolerant, welcoming community.
And while you're at it, capitalize on the area's beauty, the highly regarded colleges and universities and family-friendly attitudes.
Ah, what about jobs?
Do the rest, and they will come.
That's one of the findings in the "Soul of the Community," a three-year Knight Foundation study of 26 communities, including the Duluth area, that explored what draws people to places and keeps them there.
It found a correlation between community attachment and economic growth. Areas where residents have the highest emotional connection had the highest rates of growth in gross domestic product.
"Optimism really matters a lot in a community," said Katherine Loflin, a national expert on social issues who analyzed the data.
Phone interviews conducted by Gallup with 1,200 residents of St. Louis, Douglas and Carlton counties over three years found that everyday aspects of life -- social offerings, the region's physical beauty and
openness -- mattered most to people. That was even more than jobs, the economy and feelings about public safety.
That was true in all 26 communities surveyed in 2008, 2009 and 2010. All were cities where Knight Newspapers and Knight Ridder had newspapers, including St. Paul, San Jose, Calif., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Miami.
"These are things about place we don't typically measure," said Holly Sampson, president of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, who will unveil the results today.
The survey found residents' attachment to the Duluth area slipped from 2008 to 2010. Among the nine smaller metro areas surveyed, Duluth slipped from ranking third to seventh.
The Duluth area's beauty -- including parks, trails and Lake Superior -- gave it the highest aesthetic score among the nine.
Duluth's scenic beauty is why Greg Benson and his partners located their businesses -- Epicurean Cutting Surfaces, Loll Designs and Intectural -- high on Duluth's western hillside.
"The place comes first. We decided to move our business here because of place," he said, adding that his employees followed for the same reason.
Because of that attachment, Benson and his staff give back each year by planting trees in the Amity Creek and Chester Bowl areas.
While Duluth's aesthetics ranked highest, the survey revealed weaknesses in other key areas. Except for community events, the Duluth area scored relatively low in social offerings. And residents thought more highly of the area colleges and universities than their K-12 public schools.
The survey showed Duluth was welcoming to seniors and families with small children, but minorities and talented young adults were perceived as not so welcomed. However, the survey showed a slight improvement in openness to young adults by 2010 and a 5 percent gain in nightlife, which is important to them.
Loflin called those gains "significant," because issues about place matter most to young adults.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness said he's seen a change over the past 15 years. Instead of local college students graduating and going right to the Twin Cities, they're sticking around a year or so because they like the area. They'll work odd jobs before making career connections, he said.
Ness called the findings a snapshot of perceptions, providing valuable trend information. But he wasn't surprised by Duluth's strengths and weaknesses.
"We know our strengths," he said. "For me, it's less about the report and more about a starting point of discussion."
That discussion begins at 10 a.m. today when about 200 civic and business leaders gather at Teatro Zuccone to brainstorm ideas on how to build individual ties to the community that could lead to job creation and economic growth.
Sampson likened it to the way motivated employees are more productive and committed to a company's success.
"Residents who feel connected to their communities contribute to stronger overall growth," she said. "And talented newcomers want to move there and bring business there."
The report shows Duluth has a lot of work to do, Sampson says. But she and others say it presents an opportunity to improve on the community's weaknesses and leverage its strengths, because now they know what those key areas are.