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The greatest of greater Minnesota

Eighteen years ago, in 1997, a group of approximately 20 of Duluth's community leaders gathered at the Minnesota Capitol building in St. Paul. They were there to advocate on behalf of our beloved community. They called this foundational trip "Duluth Days."

They were well-intentioned, sincere and motivated. But, alas, they were also loosely organized and underfunded. Their visit to the Capitol went largely unnoticed. They campaigned lightly before returning to Duluth to reflect and regroup.

Those were the humble beginnings of what has developed into the most sophisticated, largest and most effective annual community gathering at the state Capitol. This bold initiative has been expanded to include a concerted advocacy effort on behalf of the entire St. Louis County. Now, Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol brings more than 600 community advocates.

Imagine 600 of us encouraging the state to fund local projects that will improve the quality of life for residents of our region. We have come a long way in 18 years. In many ways, we are the powerful political force those 20 community leaders were waiting for 18 years ago. They prepared the way for what is now a successful coalition of business and labor leaders, city councilors, county commissioners, school board members and private citizens.

We have a responsibility to those who have gone before us and to our community. We must keep this unequaled initiative moving forward. We will do exactly that when we gather at the Capitol Feb. 25 and 26.

Yet, this year, we have a heightened challenge. It is our community's shared challenge. The historic and elegant Capitol building is being refurbished. It is largely barricaded and inaccessible to visitors.

Consequently, few communities will even try to host events at the Capitol during this upcoming legislative session. I recently learned that other communities, which have shamelessly attempted to replicate our Days at the Capitol, have announced they are cancelling their gatherings. It appears the obstacles are too daunting.

Not so for those of us who work and live in beautiful St. Louis County. With resiliency and creativity as our constant companion, we will set up our operations a few blocks from the Capitol at the Crowne Plaza Hotel St. Paul-Riverfront.

We plan to provide legislators transportation to and from the Capitol to our grand reception at the Crowne Plaza. A record number of local organizations are registered to host exhibit booths at the grand reception. We anticipate a strong attendance. Additionally, we are inviting Gov. Mark Dayton and other state leaders to join us for our legislative breakfast Feb. 26 at the Crowne Plaza.

In summary, we will keep a great thing going. We will utilize our time at the Capitol once again to have our collective voice heard. The theme for our gathering this year is "Duluth and St. Louis County: the greatest of greater Minnesota."

David Ross is the president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at 740-3751 or dross@duluthchamber.com.

David Ross

David Ross is the president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at 740-3751.

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