Community Solutions for Superior’s Economy

Phil Anderson

Superior needs to think creatively about economic development. Improving the community and the quality of life for existing residents will do much to foster economic growth and stability.

Improving the existing community and residents’ lives is sustainable. What you develop for yourselves stays in the community. It makes the city more successful even if it is not growing. And it supports economic growth efforts. Companies are attracted to communities with good public, educational, recreational and cultural amenities, so improving the community for existing residents will make it more attractive to potential outside companies.

Standard economic growth strategies stress bribing companies with tax breaks, special development zones, and similar incentives. Superior has tried this in the past. Obviously, this has not turned around the overall economic situation.

Currently there is an plan to use city bonding to build an new motel complex, indoor water park, and sports field house. The hope is to increase tourism dollars and fuel the rest of the economy. Although this may be a feasible idea, it does not address Superior’s core economic problems.

Superior is a suburb of Duluth. Why not make Superior into a quality suburb for everyone? A look at the city’s strengths and challenges suggests a number of possibilities.  

Affordable Housing. Superior has a lot of available, flat land for housing. It has reasonable housing values in comparison to other areas. It also has a lot of older, frequently poor condition, housing. Why not use use the bonding power of the city to develop a community housing improvement program. Proven affordability strategies like land trusts and cooperatives could be used to rehab older housing and for new construction. This could also generate employment. Low income ownership, cooperative apartments, and senior friendly housing could be targeted. Similar projects have been successful elsewhere.  

Green Energy.  Part of the housing initiative could be helping people move to green energy technologies. Wind generators or solar leasing arrangements could work with city support. Lowering utility bills is another aspect of making housing more affordable for for everyone.

Transportation Improvements. Transportation is a major expense for low income families. Improving public transportation can make Superior more competitive and a better place to live for workers, seniors, students, and everyone. Can bus service be expanded with better access to Duluth? Can it be linked to a county system  for commuters from Brule, Lake Nebagamon, Solon Springs and Pattison Park? How about using the flat landscape to create a bicycle friendly city? Young professionals are attracted by this kind of amenity.

Childcare. Quality childcare is a major issue for working families. Making the city a model for solving these problems could help improve the lives of existing residents and attract new residents.

UWS. UWS is a huge asset generating $41.2 million in annual spending and income for the area. But state budget cuts and declining enrollment have left UWS a $4.5 million deficit resulting in staffing and program cuts.

What could Superior do to address this problem? Why not use bonding to create a scholarship program or other incentives to bring in students? Can an endowment be created? If the 107,000 people in the six NW Wisconsin counties passed the hat, they could solve the deficit with $42 per person. Is this too much to pay for benefits UWS provides?

UWS has a number of research institutes. One is The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. It is one of only two reserves on the Great Lakes. The opportunities for attracting scientific research jobs should be obvious.

City Forest and Wisconsin Point. Lake Superior and the City Forest are neglected assets. Why has the city failed to implement recommended improvements for the forest? Interest rates are low. Now is the time to do needed improvements, create camping and a nature center. Contracting with UWS to operate a nature center is an obvious improvement that has many benefits for the region.
Improvements to Wisconsin Point, including camping on Moccasin Mike Road, should be included. Cleaning up the Point, adding bike trails, shelters, and camping could make it a destination.  

A Senior Friendly City.  A small town with good public transportation, affordable housing, good medical facilities, the lake, a good library, and the city forest all become draws for retired people. Seniors are a growing demographic. The money they bring to town is stable, unlike tourism revenues.  

Superior has many strengths but capitalizing on them requires a new vision. Improving the community will bring a stable economic renewal.