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Mayor's view: Duluth is on the rise -- for the whole world to see

Duluth is first in the nation! With more than 1,100 cities submitting nominations for Google Fiber, we led the nation in digital syndication. We got great national press, which highlighted Duluth as a creative, innovative, progressive city. As a ...

Duluth is first in the nation! With more than 1,100 cities submitting nominations for Google Fiber, we led the nation in digital syndication. We got great national press, which highlighted Duluth as a creative, innovative, progressive city. As a direct result of our efforts, a Silicon Valley company contacted us about the potential of opening a satellite office in Duluth.

Whether or not Google chooses us for its experiment, the effort has been a great illustration of the growing sense of confidence and optimism in our area. We promoted our strengths, we highlighted the talent we have in town, and we had the most effective community-based effort in the nation, despite being the smallest city in serious contention.

We see this growing confidence in other exciting opportunities. Private business leaders in Duluth already have invested more than $200,000 in our efforts to attract a European wind turbine manufacturer. There were more than 40 communities in contention, most with stronger state subsidies to offer. Yet here we are one of two regions still in contention to bring up to 1,400 jobs to our region.

In addition, natural-resource industries are rebounding, we're seeing tremendous new investment in our downtown, our housing market is strong, important investments are being made in our built infrastructure, we see a bright future for Cirrus, and we are aggressively creating new shovel-ready industrial sites at Atlas Cement, the steel plant, and along our waterfront.

After decades of slow and steady improvement, it seems Duluth is on the verge of seeing tremendous growth and prosperity. It's certainly not a given, but the path is before us.

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In City Hall, we are taking aggressive steps to be a reliable partner to private-sector job creation. This summer, we will present a new unified development code, Duluth's first new zoning code in more than

50 years. This new code will streamline our development process by eliminating unnecessary red tape.

We are creating a one-stop shop for construction services, providing new online tools for folks investing in Duluth. Through process improvement, our staff already has reduced permit-processing time by 30 percent. With online tools, we'll provide even better service to our customers.

We have brought private-sector leadership back to the Duluth Economic Development Authority and have recommitted to a strong partnership with our private-sector, business-development leaders.

Another indication of our growing sense of optimism and confidence in Duluth's future is a newfound willingness to address our greatest challenges directly.

When I started the Retiree Health Care Task Force five years ago, the unfunded liability facing the city was

$292 million -- and growing every day. Due to our efforts, the liability now stands at $207 million. That $85 million cost reduction represents a 29 percent savings to the taxpayers of Duluth over the lifetime of the benefit.

Over the past 30 months, the state has cut $15.9 million of aid to the city of Duluth. When I took office in January 2008 our budget was about $82 million. With the cuts we have to make yet this year, our expenditures in 2010 will be less than

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$74 million. Despite the severity of the cuts, we strive to provide the best possible service to residents, and I am proud of our city staff members for their efforts.

Faced with embarrassing road conditions, my street-strategy plan will improve up to 100 miles of city streets over five years and improve maintenance efforts. We are only one year into the program, but I can tell our streets already are in much better condition than last spring. This summer we will improve another

20 miles of our worst streets.

I am not suggesting that we are satisfied with where we are at. No, we are far from satisfied. We need to continue to challenge the status quo, press for reform, and look for innovative solutions to our worst problems. We have to keep pushing; there is still too much work to be done.

Here is the most encouraging part: It's getting easier. Success encourages success. Folks are increasingly ready to accept change and willing to challenge the status quo.

We in Duluth seek to create an American success story that we hope to be the envy of the nation. We all have a role in this success: by investing in your home, by volunteering in your neighborhood, by starting a business, by welcoming a visitor, by shopping locally, by supporting our kids, by picking up trash, and by proudly sharing what we love about Duluth. All our efforts make a difference.

I am humbled to serve as mayor of this community. Thank you for the opportunity to work on behalf of this great city.

Don Ness is mayor of Duluth.

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