By Doug Dalager
We continue our ongoing series of articles about the Better City Superior initiative (see previous articles). In late 2015, the Better City Superior group solicited the opinions of local concerned citizens for an online survey. The survey was concluded last December and garnered 1130 total responses from citizens.
The survey is published on the BCS website and can be viewed here. This articles takes all of the information supplied by the BCS website and adds our interpretation of the numbers. I’m not a social scientist, but I played one in college in my younger years, so please take my input with a grain of salt…
Q1: Where do you live?
Answered: 1,127 Skipped: 3
When asked for their residence, 779 of the 1130 respondents specified Superior, and an additional 193 listed Douglas County, outside of Superior as their homes. Sixteen respondents were Wisconsin residents listed as outside of Douglas County. Additionally, twenty one responses under “Other” were people who lived in Wisconsin, mostly in Douglas County and many in the Town of Superior, bringing total Wisconsin participants to 993, or over 89% of the total.
The remainder of those participating were either from, Duluth and/or Minnesota, or other states.
Q2: How long have you lived in the region?
Answered: 1,125 Skipped: 5
An astounding 1028 of the 1125 respondents to this question have either lived in this area or have returned home recently. This represents over 91% of total survey participants. An additional 8% have lived in the region for 1-5 years.
In reviewing the detailed responses from Question #1 (Where do you live?), few respondents were not in the region, and included one listed as “abroad”, three in Florida, and one each in Tucson, Northeast US, Virginia, and New Mexico. For the vast majority of respondents, they are living “in the region” which would seem to indicate they live in the immediate area or somewhere in Wisconsin or Minnesota. Five people did not answer this question.
Q3: Where is your primary work location?
Answered: 1,075 Skipped: 55
This is an interesting question insomuch as it further identifies the stake that respondents have in the future of Superior.
Of the 1075 who answered this question, 652 work within the Superior city limits, or about 84% of the number reporting in Question #1 that they live in Superior. However, the survey did not ask those two questions together, so those listing their work location as Superior are not necessarily city residents.
An additional 41 reported their work location as in Douglas County, but outside of the city, and 27 more work elsewhere in Wisconsin.
The remaining 355 respondents work in Minnesota, 305 in Duluth and 50 elsewhere in the state.
Significantly, with 89% of the respondents to Question #1 (Where do you live?) report living in Wisconsin, 33% of respondents to this question report that they work in Minnesota.
It is clear that there is a disparity of employment opportunities on our side of the bridge, causing more Superior residents to drive to Minnesota for work than the other way around. This may speak to the need for job development within the city of Superior.
Q4: What is your stage in life?
Answered: 1,122 Skipped: 8
This is perhaps one of the more significant questions…what age and family status do the respondents report? This speaks greatly to whether those participating have a long-term stake in Superior and the surrounding area.
I reviewed the statistics reported on the BCS website for this question and after reviewing the detailed answers to the “Other” category, made adjustments to the numbers to better represent the total response to this question (some respondents listed themselves as “Other” but their remarks indicated that they actually did fit into one of the more specific categories).
The age group of 18-35 represented one third of all respondents, with 19.61% reporting no children and 13.64% being parents or expecting in the near future. This group represents the future of Superior and has perhaps the most to gain by the creation of an Exposition District in downtown Superior. They may benefit from job opportunities, and eventually lower property taxes if the city can resume growth.
The next bracket, 36-55 years of age accounts for just under 39% of those participating in the survey. Of this group 10.70% have no children, and 28.25% have children. These people are in the prime of life, working, and many of whom are raising a family.
When we add the 18-35 and 36-55 with children groups together we see that this represents 41.89% of respondents. These folks have a vested interest in not only economic development and jobs, but also in good schools. Significantly, the School District of Superior was successful in its April referendum to bond for $92.5M in school improvements and new construction.
The over 55 category, working or retired account for 17.83% and 9.54% respectively, or a combined 27.37% of the sample. When reviewing US Census numbers I found that the age demographic of 18-55 outnumbers the 56 and above age category by a 2:1 margin, in this survey the respondents between the ages of 18-55 outnumbered those 56 an above by a margin of almost 3:1.
A case could be made that younger residents are more motivated to undertake economic development than those nearing or past retirement age. Alternatively, this could be a result of conducting an online survey vs. an in-person or written survey, which might find more older participants.
Q5: What is your role in the community? (check all that apply)
Answered: 1,117 Skipped: 13
I think this is a very important question since it explains the motivations of those responding. Often times when a major economic development project is proposed the conventional wisdom dictates that only the “elites” are in favor of such spending.
In this case, 88% of respondents identified themselves as being a “Citizen”. Given that your average man on the street probably fits into this category, it speaks to this survey being quite representative of what your average citizen might feel about their city and this project.
Since more than one answer was allowed, allowing us to further analyze those responding to this survey, we also learn that about 13% are business owners, just over 2% have a role in government, about 13% represent a group or organization, and 10% are students.
Q6: As a community, we control our own future.
Answered: 1,038 Skipped: 92
This question speaks to whether people feel that we control our own destiny. This is significant in face of sometimes prevalent negative thinking that “things won’t change, can’t get better, it’s a lost cause.”
We see in these answers that survey respondents agree or strongly agree that we can control our future by a 78.71% to 13.49% margin, with 7.8% had no opinion on the question. This is encouraging since it suggests that far more local residents believe in a positive and productive future than those who have a defeatist attitude.
Q7: What is your general feeling about the future of Superior?
Answered: 1,095 Skipped: 35
Contrary to the previous question that portrayed an overwhelmingly positively view of our ability to control the future, this question shows that those with positive views of Superior’s future are only 36.44% of total respondents, with 37.99% being on the fence as neutral.. Over 25% reports their feelings about Superior’s future as being negative.
If we combine the positive and neutral scores we arrive at a figure of 74.43%, which could be taken as a positive response suggesting that three quarters of respondents are hopeful and perhaps waiting to be shown how to enhance Superior living.
Q8: How do you think other community members feel about the future of Superior?
Answered: 1,092 Skipped: 38
This question screams to the narrative of negativity that has plagued Superior for years. When asked how others feel about Superior, 50% of participants responded in the negative. An additional 37% had no opinion. Sadly, less than 14% have a positive outlook for our city.
This may indicate that those responding to the questionnaire have a more favorable outlook on life than they believe the population in general has. However, if the sample of this survey is representative of the attitudes of the local populace, this question suggests that while we might be positive thinking ourselves, we think most are not.
What does this mean? So far we’ve learned that most think we hold our destiny in our hands by an almost 6:1 margin (see table Q6). When asked our personal feelings about Superior’s future, 36.44% are positive, and when coupled with neutral responses, this number grows to 74.43% of responses.
However, when asked what we think our friends and neighbors think about Superior, less than 14% have a positive belief in our future. When we lump in those “neutrals” this number grows to just barely over 50%!
Why are we so negative in the Northland, particularly in Superior?
Perhaps this explains when you ask a long-time resident of this area “How are things going?” they are more likely to respond by saying “Not too bad” rather than “really good”.
The Better City Superior folks need to convince local residents, particularly those who were born and bred here, that Superior has the ability to craft its own positive future.
Q9: Who should we depend on most to lead our city forward?
Answered: 1,091 Skipped: 39
Who should lead? That is the $64 thousand dollar question is it not (or this case the $100M question). While the BCS initiative is the brainchild of the local business community with limited involvement from City and County government, the respondents to the survey believe largely in their citizenry and local organizations when it comes to making this dream a reality.
Just under 24% of responses hope to see the local business community take the lead, followed by 18% who are looking to our elected officials to make this happen.
As described by Bruce Thompson, BCS leader and National Bank of Commerce president, the BCS initiative is envisioned to be a public private partnership. He has asserted that he and his business compatriots see their mission as “proof of concept”, but they believe that its implementation will take the active participation of the mayor, city council, and administrative departments.
However, since this can only happen by referendum and popular vote by residents, ultimately the citizens of Superior will have the final say. Thompson is okay with that, having stated that he only wants the opportunity to place this idea into play and then will be content to abide by the prevailing opinion of the electorate.
This question generated many detailed responses, in fact 160 (about 15%) of respondents entered a comment in the “Other” box. These comments are far too numerous to get into for the purposes of this article, but we will share them with you in a future article.
Unless the citizens of Superior believe this is a good and valid goal for our city, it will not happen. The reins are in the hands of the voters, and the results of this poll seem to suggest that people are in agreement.
Q10: Looking to the future, we should:
Answered: 1,086 Skipped: 44
Remember how I shared the negative feelings of many survey respondents above when it came to the future of Superior? Check this out…96% of survey respondents believe that we NEED TO BE PROACTIVE AND STRATEGIC going forward!
This flies in the face of the CAVE person attitude (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) that we’ve run up against so often here in Superior. This response alone shouts out to our leaders, “Do something, please!”
Q11: In Superior, we have the community vision we need to be successful.
Answered: 1,088 Skipped: 42
Okay, so we’re hopeful but a bit frightened of the future. We think we can and should approve, but we’re not so sure about what our neighbors think. Does our community and our leaders have a clear vision that will lead to success? Are we committed to growing our community and improving our city?
Only 7% strongly agree, and with the support of another 33% who agree somewhat, as a community only 40% believe we currently have a clear vision of what success looks like. One quarter of our neighbors have no opinion, and the remaining 35½% have a negative outlook on the future.
Wow, of the 1088 people who responded to this question, a whopping 217 had comments to leave for the survey takers! As with Question 9 (Who should we depend on to move our city forward?), this question evoked many opinions with a variety of views. We will dig into these citizen comments in a future article.
It seems as though this is a city in need of an inspirational leader. While the current mayor is conditionally supportive of BCS, this may take someone with more hope for the future to get it over the goal line.
At a recent City Council meeting, several of the councilors were very enthusiastic of the BCS proposal, and the following week at a Douglas County Board administration committee meeting, those present were also excited and supportive.
For this proposal to have legs and ultimately succeed, it is going to take strong support by elected officials, and perhaps one of more who will personally champion the idea of redeveloping downtown Superior. This will take courage and conviction, something that has been forthcoming from the current administration.
We encourage Mayor Hagen to step up and engage with citizens on this issue with the same enthusiasm that he did when campaigning for reelection in early 2015. Passing the Better City Superior initiative would be a much better legacy than just settling for the reconstruction of Belknap.
Q12: How does Duluth affect what we should do in Superior?
Answered: 1,089 Skipped: 41
Do local residents see themselves as carrying Duluth’s water…ah, NO! by an overwhelming margin. Over 80% of those responding believe that competing with Duluth is not the answer to improving Superior’s fortunes
It is clear by the results that Superiorites and its supporters want to travel their own road. Duluth has a lot to offer, and many believe that our best chance of success in reinvigorating our economy and improving our lifestyle is to focus on our own strengths while also doing what we can to complement what is happening in Duluth.
Both cities share long borders with Lake Superior, and this natural wonder attracts many visitors and new residents on its north shore. By strengthening the economy and enhancing what we have to offer in Superior, perhaps we can do the same in Superior.
Q13: How do you feel about the following statements?
Answered: 1,025 Skipped: 105
On a more positive note, respondents to the survey either strongly agreed to agreed somewhat that neighborhood friendliness, a vibrant downtown, and the presence of recreation and sports are important to Superior by well over 75% of those responding.
Perhaps this was begging the question. Who doesn’t want a friendly feel to their city, and a nice downtown? However, the fact that over 80% of respondents believe that recreation and sports are an important component to a successful Superior is a revelation that bears investigation.
Given the success seen in Ogden, Utah in recent years capitalizing on their beautiful surrounding and ties to recreation, coupled with the recognition in Duluth over the past decade of the importance of the outdoors, this may be a become a big part of developing an attractive lifestyle here in Superior. (see article by ES about Ogden here)
Q14: Looking to the future as a community, how much focus should we place on each of the following elements?
Answered: 1,023 Skipped: 107
This was another question that generated many, many comments…174 in total. The following table summarizes those results, but we will also do an article about the results of this question in pursuit of getting a better handle on what people believe are key components to Superior’s future.
In short, this table indicates that jobs are the most urgent need identified by the survey respondents, with 92% expressing the belief that this goal should receive a large or somewhat large focus by local leaders. In an election year, this probably comes as no surprise to most.
Jobs were followed closely by recreation and entertainment on everyone’s wish list, with 81% of respondents hoping for more activity in these areas. This was followed by attracting more visitors (aka tourists) with over 80% support.
Education improvement came in with over 78% supporting this somewhat and above. Hopefully the new $92.5M referendum will do a long way in providing improved educational opportunities in our public schools.
Improved housing also garnered over 78% support, specifically the creation of new residential developments and improving our housing stock in general.
Q15: What should be the community’s focus in providing recreational, cultural and entertainment offerings?
Answered: 1,022 Skipped: 108
We won’t analyze this data set in depth at this time, but future articles that focus more on the proposals of the BCS initiative will touch on some of these items, including the water park and movie theaters.
Q16: What should be the community’s focus in providing sports facilities?
Answered: 1,020 Skipped: 110
Related to the desire to enhance recreation and sports opportunities in Superior, this question polled respondents on where they think this focus should be centered on. By far and away, outdoor parks and trails were the most popular item on the list with 79% believe they deserve a large or somewhat large share of attention.
This preference was followed in popularity by the construction of a new indoor field house that could house sports, tournaments and other community events with 62.51% support. University facilities and the YMCA found their levels of support well below 50% on the same scale. This may be because the University is a state institution and not locally funded, and the YMCA is a private non-profit operation.
It is relevant to remind readers that an indoor sports facility that would cater to indoor soccer and lacrosse leagues and tournaments is a key portion of the BCS initiative.
Q17: If you could suggest one single thing to do to improve our community, what would it be?
Answered: 668 Skipped: 462
This was an open-ended question that generated responses from almost 70% of those who participated in the survey. We will also do an article on the responses to this question, and in the process will attempt to summarize the responses as trends emerge during data analysis.
Q18: In order to pay for what we wish to accomplish, we should consider making thoughtful investments of tax dollars.
Answered: 981 Skipped: 149
The results of this question indicate that over 80% of respondents either strongly agree or somewhat agree that the thoughtful investment of tax dollars is necessary. This would seem to indicate those who participated in the survey recognize that tax dollars are necessary to make this initiative a reality.
Q19: What is the best method to pay for new public investments in Superior?
Answered: 973 Skipped: 157
The final question of the survey asked how people believe new public investment in Superior should be paid for. While the responses to Question 18 about investment of tax dollars seemed to recognize that this project required tax dollars to come to fruition, the responses to this question were somewhat unclear.
Almost 44% of respondents agree that a sales tax aimed at tourists like the one proposed by BCS is a sound means of paying for new public development. Another 9% favor a new general sales tax to do the same, an unlikely scenario since that would be applied to everything purchased within the city limits and would require approval by the state assembly.
Nonetheless, those two categories combined reflect that over 53% of participants are open to a new sales tax of some kind to spur redevelopment in Superior.
8.5% are in favor of reinvesting only new revenues generated by new projects. This is sound development policy and will no doubt be a part of the BCS proposal should the Exposition District become a reality. However, that money won’t be available until after the project is built, and so this is not a real option for paying for such a project.
A significant number of respondents, 37.10%, would prefer to reprioritize existing city spending to redevelop the downtown. While this is a prudent stand to make, it is unlikely to see any success. As it stands now, the city coffers are being stretched to the breaking point, so there is little that could be reprioritized and/or redirected. If this were to be the prevailing stand on expenditure of tax dollars, there will be no redevelopment of downtown Superior.
Bringing up the rear were 1.44% of respondents who advocate for no public investment in Superior. These are no doubt the CAVE people previously referenced in this article.
Origin of Better City (September 9, 2016)
Better City Vision Shared (August 31, 2016)
Better City Receives Council Support (August 18, 2016)
Better City Wants Your Opinion (December 16, 2015)
Better City Initiative (November 5, 2015)