Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris focused on efforts by the city to attract young professionals and others to live and visit the city during her 2013 State of the City Address Tuesday (Jan. 22). An estimated 250 business and civic leaders gathered at the Gwinnett Center to hear her informative talk.
Duluth already offers many amenities that appeal to young professionals, Harris said, and will be adding more as the city proceeds with plans to redevelop historic Downtown Duluth into a dining and entertainment district. Plans also include providing affordable high-density places to live downtown, she said.
Of particular interest, the mayor said, are “millennials,” individuals born between 1982 and 2002.
The number of persons over the age of 40 in Duluth grew by 45 percent in 2011, Harris said. “Young professionals only grew 10 percent in 2011.”
Young professionals are looking for alternatives to living in Atlanta, she said, and are “looking at small towns like Duluth.”
Their motivation isn’t jobs anymore, Harris said. Three out of four young professionals under the age of 28 think “a cool city is more important than a job.”
The mayor’s presentation included video interviews with young Duluth professionals talking about what they would like to have in the city. Their comments were reflected in her speech.
A “cool city” offers young professionals authenticity, walkability, music and theatre venues, an art culture, and interesting places to shop and dine, Harris said.
Sidewalk additions have earned the city two Golden Shoe awards for improving pedestrian access in 2011 and 2012, the mayor said
Both “Eddie Owen Presents” at the Red Clay Theatre and New Dawn Theater attract downtown visitors to Duluth at night, Harris said. “Young professionals will travel to hear music." Atlanta Magazine named the Red Clay Theatre the best new music venue in the suburbs in 2012, she said.
The city hopes to add about a dozen restaurants to historic downtown Duluth, Harris said.
“Us Baby Boomers are looking at the same things as young professionals,” the mayor noted. An active senior citizens center recently has been built at W.P. Jones Park, she said.
Providing multiple earning options where young entrepreneurs can flourish, such as the Work Spot, a co-working environment, also are desirable, Harris said. Important, too, are “third places” between home and office where they can “hang out” together.
Today’s young people tend to be lifelong learners, the mayor added, and Duluth is located near several institutions of higher learning.
Young professionals also want to have opportunities to become engaged in the community and to enjoy outdoor recreation, she said. “We’re in close proximity to the mountains and the Lake [Lanier], Harris said. “It’s easy to get to the outdoors if you live here.”
Duluth has access to the Chattahoochee River and is installing a concrete canoe ramp at Rogers Bridge Park that will be completed this spring. The Chattapoochee Dog Park at Rogers Bridge Park was recently named “Best of Gwinnett.”
‘Shiner,” the mayor of the dog park, and Harris embarked on a “road trip” and visited about 40 businesses, schools, parks, and civic organizations within the city limits to prepare for the address. Photographs with “Shiner” at the sites accompanied the mayor’s speech and emphasized its theme of “Local Duluth."
The mayor urged attendees to support Duluth small businesses whose livelihood depends on local shoppers and to encourage businesses that appeal to young entrepreneurs. She also recognized large corporations that make Duluth their home, including AGCO and the Gem Shopping Network.
Local activities such as the Duluth Fall Festival, Barefoot in the Park Fine Arts Festival, movies, concerts and special events on the Duluth Town Green bring citizens and visitors downtown, Harris said.
Young professionals usually organize around issues rather than go to meetings on a regular basis, Harris said. The city needs to recognize this tendency and also to diversify its boards and commissions, she said.
“If we involve young people in our city, they’re going to stay here,” Harris said.
The Gateway Art Project Committee is in the process of selecting a sculpture to be installed in the new Roundabout, and a permanent public arts commission that will develop additional public art projects is forming. “We know that a culture of art will attract people to Duluth,” she said.
“Young people are looking for authenticity, and we really think Duluth offers it,” Harris said.
Terry Crouch, president of the Duluth Civitan Club, introduced Mayor Harris. This is the ninth year the club has jointly sponsored the annual address with the city. A video about the club and the charities it supports preceded the mayor’s speech.
The Duluth Civitan Club, founded in 2002, has 40 members. It meets the first and third Tuesday of every month at 11:45 a.m. at Kurt’s Bistro. The Duluth Civitan Club sponsors the Peachtree Corners Junior Civitan Club.
Sponsors of this year’s State of the City Address were Accent Creative Group, AGCO, Annandale Village, Alan Densmore, Gwinnett Medical Center, Kimley-Horn, MSI Benefits Group, Republic Services, Signs By Tomorrow and $10 River Tubing.
Fifteen local businesses set up booths and participated in a Business Expo that complemented the mayor’s address.
Special guests included members of the Duluth City Council, current Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, former Norcross mayor Lillian Webb, and Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Johnson.