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UMD seeking new pieces to Duluth's economic puzzle

A regional effort is attempting to identify businesses that could be missing pieces in the economic development puzzle. It will search for potential enterprise networks in the Duluth area that could become suppliers to new businesses. The Univers...

A regional effort is attempting to identify businesses that could be missing pieces in the economic development puzzle.

  It will search for potential enterprise networks in the Duluth area that could become suppliers to new businesses.

The University of Minnesota Duluth Labovitz School of Business and Economics and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) are involved in the six-month project. The work is being funded by a $50,000 grant from DEED following interest in the project by Commissioner Matt Kramer.

"What we're trying to do is find some non-obvious opportunities for business development," said Jim Skurla, acting director of the school's Bureau of Business and Economic Research. "We're trying to see if there are products that could be made here that aren't being made here."

He said an example would be where existing manufacturers in this region have the ability to make parts of a product, but another business is needed to complete production and actually make the product here.

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Skurla said they will look at a national model to see what is bought and produced and determine what might translate to opportunities for this region. "If we have most of the pieces here, maybe we could make that product here," he said.

The project covers Duluth and surrounding areas including Douglas County, Wis., Lake and Carlton counties. He said it is defined as the Duluth-Superior labor shed area, where people work in the area, but do not necessarily live there.

"It's much more of a regional approach," Skurla said. "You do not have to be in Duluth, you can have this business in the region somewhere ... because people will drive to it anyway."

He said Minnesota's recently established tax-free jobs zones could become an extra incentive for an outside industry to come into the area and complete the puzzle.

The Duluth project is actually a pilot. The outcome will be a report and presentation to DEED. "We are hoping that if it works we can try and do it elsewhere around the state," he said.

There are about 10 people working with Skurla on the project team including bureau staff, UMD Economics Professor Richard Lichty, regional economist F. Charles Lamphera and DEED regional labor analyst Scott Moore.

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