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Your City -- Your Business: Duluth's natural surroundings create competitive advantage

It was my recent good fortune to meet Lisa Cerri, program consultant for SnRGe (Smart Neighborhood Revitalization Growth Education), who recommended that I read a book produced by the Duluth Energy Resource Center and entitled "Resettling Duluth....

It was my recent good fortune to meet Lisa Cerri, program consultant for SnRGe (Smart Neighborhood Revitalization Growth Education), who recommended that I read a book produced by the Duluth Energy Resource Center and entitled "Resettling Duluth." Reading about Duluth is a favorite pastime of mine, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this particular book. The forward was especially well written by author Gary Coates, who vividly described his first visit to Duluth:
"I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the natural setting, the power, presence and grandeur of Lake Superior and the ancient hills which frame it to the west. Next, as an architect, I was struck by Duluth's diverse and rich architectural heritage, which stands as a living testimony to a long tradition of pride in place and hope for the future. But most of all, I was taken by the way fingers of wilderness still reach down through the fabric of the city, joining the surrounding landscape to the lake and creating a rich fabric of distinctive and beautiful neighborhoods -- a garden city woven harmoniously into the fabric of a primal wilderness."
Perspectives like that offered by Gary Coates reaffirm those of us who make Duluth our home. Our beautiful natural surroundings make Duluth unique. This beauty is also what is becoming our distinct competitive advantage as we work to attract and retain community members.
Duluth can learn hard, but valuable, lessons from cities like Atlanta, where major employer Hewlett-Packard chose to move a new facility away from the region because of concerns about traffic and its effect on the quality of life for employees. Businesses within Atlanta are decrying the problems resulting from unplanned growth and the lack of a long-term vision to guide the city's expansion successfully. We, as a community, can do better.
Important to Duluth and other cities is the placement of business, both commercial and retail. This is why the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce wholeheartedly endorses the city's recently initiated comprehensive planning effort, which will include a detailed land-use plan. Home and business owners will benefit from knowing exactly how specific properties will be identified and zoned for designated purposes. Once this identification is completed, we can look forward to completing a transportation plan to complement the new land-use plan.
There are numerous additional decisions to be made, proposals to be supported or rejected, and steps to be taken or negated in the creation of a successful 21st century community. Yet one fact is already clear: The crucial factor separating those communities which will flourish from those which will decline is a citizenry that understands the need to offer a high quality of life in order to retain existing workers, attract new workers, establish a positive corporate image and provide a favorable work environment.
The negative aspects of many other cities -- increasing traffic congestion, lack of affordable housing, degraded environmental conditions and sterile downtowns -- are even now motivating individuals and families to become a part of communities like ours.
We still have time to avoid the mistakes experienced by other cities. Duluth is in an ideal position to generate a timely and a timeless vision of the way in which an ideal community should emerge. At the same time, we can, and must, continue to ensure Duluth's remaining a living testimony to a long tradition of pride in place and hope for the future.
The Chamber seeks to partner with other groups and individuals in a unified effort to make wise use of our unique resources as we compete for success in today's complex world.
David Ross is the president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

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