As I travel across Northeastern Minnesota, it’s clear Duluth plays an indispensable role as a regional economic hub. With top-notch schools and colleges, thriving health care facilities, an important Great Lakes port, and a world-class airport, the city spurs jobs and economic development that ripple out across the entire region. This dynamic region will see more than $1 billion in transportation infrastructure investments and hospital improvements in the coming years, supporting sustained growth and strengthening our communities.

In 2020, I’ll continue to work with Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota so the federal government is a strong partner in supporting local priorities that advance our common values of freedom, fairness, and opportunity for all. Through our shared work, we can connect families, businesses, and communities in the region to opportunities to thrive.

I believe everyone should get a fair shake at building the life they want. But when I talk to Minnesotans in Duluth and across the state, I hear how hard it can be to build a life and a family when there are obstacles to connecting with affordable and quality housing, education and career training, good jobs, and health care. That’s why I’m pushing policies to improve access and opportunities for all. Whether it’s strengthening families and communities by expanding paid family leave or reducing runaway health care costs so that no family faces bankruptcy because they can’t afford life-saving care, I am fighting to eliminate barriers to opportunity so that all Minnesotans can share in the American Dream.



On addressing the housing shortage: As I’ve heard from Mayor Emily Larson and other leaders in Duluth and across the region that there is a lot of work to be done to support and sustain growth. As new jobs are created, people who fill them need affordable places to live. Duluth — like most rural, urban, and tribal communities across our state — is grappling with a persistent housing shortage.

This year, as a new member of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee, I took steps to address the impact of the housing crisis on Minnesota. If people don’t have safe, affordable places to live, nothing else in their lives works. It’s nearly impossible for them to go to school, keep a job, or stay healthy.

This past year, my office traveled to more than 20 communities across the state on our statewide “Housing Listening Tour.” We learned about the impacts of the housing shortage and saw how communities like Duluth are implementing innovative programs to tackle it. In Washington, D.C., I’m pushing measures to expand affordable housing — and I’m pushing back on shortsighted Trump Administration efforts to cut federal housing support.



On highlighting what works: In August, I launched a new bipartisan Rural Economic Working Group in the Senate to highlight what is working in rural communities. Since then I’ve traveled across the state and have seen successful local ideas that I can bring to Congress to help restore economic prosperity in rural America.

At a November rural-economy meeting in Two Harbors, I heard from local officials and business leaders not only about the community’s housing shortage but also about the need to attract and train workers so they have skills to fill local job openings. They agreed that my 21st Century Workforce Partnerships Act would help schools and local businesses create partnerships to help students prepare for high-skill jobs and help employers train workers for a 21st-century economy.



Health care is a top priority: That same day, I traveled up the North Shore to Grand Marais, where I met with health care providers. Health care is the issue I hear about most from Minnesotans; and as a member of the Senate Health Committee, I’m fighting to improve access and bring down the costs of care.

Like most rural communities, Grand Marais faces health care challenges. It struggles to maintain local services and to recruit and retain doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. In response, I introduced two bipartisan measures: the “Rural MOMS Act” to help new and expecting moms in rural communities get the care they need and the “Strengthening Our Rural Health Workforce Act” to help train and recruit health care workers in rural communities. I’m glad to report that both these measures are moving through Congress, and I hope to get them signed into law soon.



Regarding Fond du Lac: In July, I was honored to join Fond du Lac Tribal Chairman Kevin Dupuis and other leaders at the tribe’s annual Veterans Powwow, an important community and cultural event. I have worked with tribal leaders on housing and other economic issues. As a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I will continue to work with tribal leaders to lift up the tribe’s important economic and social impact on the region.

The tribe’s many enterprises provide hundreds of jobs, and its leaders are working with Duluth Mayor Larson to strengthen relationships with the city so the tribe rightfully has a seat at the table when important regional decisions are made.



As 2020 approaches, I will continue working to connect all Minnesotans to opportunity.

Sen. Tina Smith represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the request of the Opinion page.

THE YEAR AHEAD

The News Tribune Opinion page again this year asked community leaders and area experts to gaze into their crystal balls and to share what 2020 might be bringing us.

Thursday, Dec. 26: City of Duluth

Friday, Dec. 27: St. Louis County

Saturday, Dec. 28: Duluth school district

SUNDAY, DEC. 29: Congress

Monday, Dec. 30: Minnesota Legislature

Tuesday, Dec. 31: The Economy

Wednesday, Jan. 1: Tourism

Thursday, Jan. 2: Business

Friday, Jan. 3: Downtown Duluth