YEAR-AHEAD SERIES, DAY 7: Business / Regional resiliency will boost our economic recovery

From the column: "The impacts of 2020 were difficult ... (but) I'm excited about the opportunities in 2021."

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I’m excited to think about opportunities in 2021. While I know there will be ongoing hardships and issues, I have a positive outlook based on regional resiliency, business-community strength, and prospects for recovery and growth.

Employers have kept people working by providing safe environments, following mandates, accessing emergency funding resources (often assisted by economic-development partners), and transforming their businesses to help fight the virus. They’ve embraced new paradigms, including remote work, flexible scheduling, and virtual meetings — building a solid base for growth.

Many believe the best way to improve our economy is to eliminate the health threats of COVID-19. On that front, help from vaccines and herd immunity is on the way. While timelines may differ, most agree the hospitality industry will be fully reopened between May and September. That could not come soon enough. A dining, travel, and tourism resurgence is needed to keep many valuable businesses alive. Today, many of us can pitch in to help keep this key component of our local economy, and lifestyle, viable. Buy local and eat local!

Construction investment will grow in 2021. Two historic investments are underway: Essentia’s Vision Northland and the Enbridge Line 3 Replacement Project. The foundations were set in 2020 at Vision Northland, and cranes support the work of 190 tradespeople onsite daily. This will grow to between 450 and 600 workers daily as 2021 progresses, completing structural work and enclosing the building. After seven years of environmental studies, public outreach, regulatory review and permitting, the Line 3 replacement is underway, employing 2,000 tradespeople in more than 10 Minnesota counties and one tribal nation. This enormous infrastructure replacement project is expected to employ 4,000 in 2021.

While construction may be lagging overall, many regional projects are creating family-supporting jobs. Residential remodeling is keeping Northlanders busy, benefitting contractors and retailers. Minnesota Housing 2020 funds will invest $30 million in six projects in the Duluth housing market in 2021, driven by public, private, and nonprofit developers (“Duluth housing projects to receive more than $30 million shot in arm,” Dec. 17). In Superior, 135 units were added in 2020 with another 135 planned for 2021, according to the city. These projects, other private developments, and a positive trend of home improvement will continue to spur housing and construction growth in the coming year.


Manufacturers faced the challenges of 2020, learning how to keep employees safe and supply lines open. Automation protects employees and improves the bottom line. Studies show that employers who automate add jobs and pay more while growing revenue and profitability. Domestic supply lines are more predictable and secure, and domestic-buying trends positively impact our region. As domestic relationships grow, overseas manufacturers recognize the need to bring production “onshore.” Your local economic developers are pursuing opportunities to add needed jobs resulting from onshoring and bring jobs like papermaking and aircraft maintenance back. We know industrial jobs pay well, generate local taxes, and bring positive indirect impacts.

Our region has a tremendous opportunity to develop rich natural resources, supporting the clean-energy economy. Copper and nickel are essential in the production of wind turbines, solar panels, energy storage, and the transmission assets needed to move domestically produced clean energy.

Yes, the impacts of 2020 were difficult. Blows were suffered in an unbalanced, unfair fashion. Our patience and our pocketbooks were tested. But, true to form, our region was resilient. We are strong and we have great prospects for growth.

Please join APEX in driving regional investment. Share your voice. Tell your elected representatives about the importance of removing barriers to job growth. Together, we will come out of the pandemic even stronger.

Brian Hanson is president and CEO of APEX, a Duluth economic development agency. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the invitation of the Opinion page.

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Brian Hanson

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