Long a labor leader, Keith Musolf, in just one year as a member of the St. Louis County Board, has emerged as a strong, consistent voice for job creation and economic development.
His advocacy and expertise line up well with an economic recovery in the county and across our region that demands to follow the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.
In addition, Musolf has grown in knowledge and effectiveness as a commissioner and he provides a welcome buffer politically and geographically between more-liberal Duluth commissioners and more-conservative Iron Range commissioners.
He has earned reelection in this fall’s Nov. 3 vote. Those eligible to cast ballots in his District 5 — which includes the cities of Hermantown, Proctor, and Rice Lake and the townships of Brevator, Canosia, Duluth, Gnesen, Lakewood, Midway, and Solway — can select Musolf again, like they did in August 2019 in the special election to replace Pete Stauber after his move to Congress.
“Working forward for middle-class families has been my thing, and I think people see that. (They see) me as a jobs representative pushing for economic development. But it all starts with middle-class families,” Musolf said in an interview last month, held virtually, with the News Tribune Editorial Board.
Musolf does market development for Ironworkers Union Local 512. His day job, in other words, is promoting good, living-wage work. He lives in Midway Township.
“I (work well) with the local congressman from one party and the local representatives from another party,” Musolf said. “I do daily whatever I can to benefit our area in St. Louis County. If anybody wants to work to move forward, I’m going to work with that person for the better of all of us.”
Although not in his district — but close enough to affect his district, he said — the COVID-19 downturn-closed Verso paper mill in West Duluth has Musolf’s full attention as he prepares for his first full term on the board.
“Our planning department is working so hard trying to make something feasible, to get jobs roling there again,” he said. “We’re trying sooner than later to get that place reopened. There are 250 direct jobs there, nearly. That’s a huge one for the area. There’ll be news to come on that one soon.”
The coming Costco store near Duluth International Airport is a good example, Musolf said, of how the county, during his tenure, has been helping to encourage development and economic activity, including by partnering with others, in this instance the city of Duluth. The city and county both voted to forgo a total of $2 million of property tax collections for the Costco development, using the money for public transportation and public infrastructure improvements at the site. The delayed tax collections are expected to be recouped via sales taxes paid by the new store within about three years for the county.
“Every avenue we can take a look at, doing any kind of abatement program to get a company or business back up and employees working, is a huge, huge deal,” Musolf said. “We need to get more jobs and folks in the area.”
Improving infrastructure is something the county has done well with its transportation sales tax. Improving broadband infrastructure can come next, Musolf said — and progress is being made. One example he cited is the county’s partnership with Rice Lake to capture federal and state financial assistance.
Musolf is being challenged by Tammy Sundbom of Canosia Township, development director at the Boys and Girls Club of the Northland. She started a mental health initiative for the club, which she said is the sort of work that translates well to service on the County Board.
“Public service has always been important to me,” she said in a separate interview with the Editorial Board. “I want to be able to do more and go beyond what (I’ve done at) the Boys and Girls Club. The next phase for me is the county.”
Unseating Musolf will be difficult, however. His growing effectiveness and voice, focus on jobs, and record of achievement in just one year (including also a rural mental health program via a partnership between the county and schools) makes him the pick for voters in District 5.
ABOUT THIS ENDORSEMENT: This endorsement was determined solely by and was written by the News Tribune Editorial Board.