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A young professional's paradise

The year was 1978. I had recently earned my college degree and hoped to begin my career in my beloved hometown of Duluth. Unfortunately for my contemporaries and me, Duluth was down and out.

Unemployment was 16 percent, far higher than the national rate and higher than the Minnesota rate. Duluth was identified, nationally, as one of the 10 most-distressed cities in America.

U.S. Steel closed its doors in 1971, heralding an end to a once-robust manufacturing era. Diamond Tool closed. Other smokestack industries in the western neighborhoods struggled and soon followed U.S. Steel out of Duluth. 14,000 jobs were lost when local manufacturing companies quit building ships in the port.

Just when our good town was on its knees, the Duluth U.S. Air Force Air Base closed. Iron ore mines to the north went dark and cold as they shuttered the windows and turned off the power. The closing of the mines sent shock waves through the shipping, trucking and railroad industries.

Our harbor became a place where Great Lakes ore boats came home to idle or to be scrapped. Hundreds of railroad boxcars were left dormant to rust in Duluth's rail yards.

Downtown stores closed. The store lights were turned off. Windows were papered over or boarded up to hide from view the darkness, dampness and despair that lingered in those vacant shops.

Duluth was broken and dispirited. This was my beloved city when I was 21 years of age.

Contrast that bleakness to the promise and the possibilities that welcome young adults to Duluth in 2015. Our unemployment rate is at a record low, lower than the national and state averages. Opportunity abounds. Positive national attention is being lavished upon our beloved community.

Outside Magazine crowned Duluth as America's Best Place to Live. The City of Duluth is the 15th-fastest growing municipal economy in America, according to U.S. Census Bureau. Forbes Magazine listed Duluth as one of the Best Places for Business and Careers. Travel & Leisure Magazine ranked Duluth No. 20 among the 40 Best College Towns. Money Magazine ranked Duluth among the Top Five Small Cities for Living. Duluth is one of the Top 10 Places to Raise an Outdoor Kid, according to Backpacker Magazine.

There is a powerful, objective indication of just how popular Duluth is becoming among young professionals. According to the most recent information from the Census Bureau, the 25-34-year-old demographic in Duluth has grown by 25 percent in the last five years. The Chamber's young professional group, Fuse Duluth, is enjoyed exponential growth. One thing is increasing clear: Duluth is fast becoming the clear choice as a place to call home for young persons and for their families.

The 1970s were a dark time for Duluth. Yet in that dark time, we began to see how important tourism was to our community's financial recovery. We began to see how valuable being on the shores of the greatest of the Great Lakes was to promoting our Zenith City. We began to embrace college students. We embraced the perfect size that is Duluth, not too big and not too small. We came to better understand the power of place. We came to understand that having a community located in such a glorious natural setting is our competitive advantage. Young professionals are fortunate to be working and living in Duluth. So, too, are the rest of us.

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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