Thunder Bay

Duluth Mayor Don Ness says cycling investment paying off

As Thunder Bay prepares to host its first "biking means business" summit on Tuesday, April 14, the mayor of Duluth, Minn. says efforts to brand his city as a cycling destination are already paying off.

Duluth's emphasis on mountain biking is part of its strategy to sell quality of life to professionals

While Duluth, Minn. is also committed to city cycling and bike lanes, its true focus is on mountain biking. (Submitted by Sugarloaf Provincial Park)

As Thunder Bay prepares to host its first "biking means business" summit on Tuesday, April 14, the mayor of Duluth, Minn. says efforts to brand his city as a cycling destination are already paying off.

In a bid to attract sought-after young professionals, Mayor Don Ness has used his time in office to strengthen Duluth's reputation as an outdoor recreation city with a high quality of life.

The hallmark of the strategy is the extensive network of mountain bike trails cut into the city's hilly landscape. There are plans to expand it into a system spanning over 150 kilometres, all within city limits. When it's complete, the Duluth Traverse will be the largest urban mountain bike system in the world, said Ness. 

"That's something that we'll use as a calling card," he said, "to not only talk about mountain biking, but also Duluth's commitment to healthy living, to protecting our valuable green space in town, to being a city that can think big enough to actually accomplish a project of this scale."

'It does spur economic development'

Investments in cycling, as opposed to other forms of city infrastructure, can be a tough sell, said Ness, but people are starting to see the economic rewards.

Duluth used to struggle to attract professionals such as doctors, or engineers, he said, but that's changing. 

"The case that we're making, and I think that the community is now starting to embrace, is when we invest in these quality of life elements and improve our brand, it does spur economic development," he said.

Ness noted that attracting new people also broadens the tax base, filling city coffers with funds they can use for other projects. 

The strategy is also attracting business, said Ness, who credits quality of life for employees as one reason a national retailer recently committed to building its $70 million headquarters in Duluth.

At it's core, Duluth's bike-friendly branding strategy is about embracing the city's unique characteristics, and its advantages as a city close to nature, said Ness, and that's something other towns can learn from.

"I think even the narrative of what's happening in Duluth can strengthen and bolster Thunder Bay's efforts as well," he said. 

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