Why Superior…Why Not?


A Great Place to Live and Start a Business

A couple years back, Duluth was named the “#1 Best Place to Live” in the US by Outside Magazine. I agree, Duluth is a great place to live and has a lot to offer residents, visitors and business owners.

However, it occurred to me at the time that since Superior is right across the bay from Duluth, that we probably share many of the same attributes that brought such recognition to our neighbors “over there.”

This distinction was won in an online opinion poll that was actively promoted by “homers” in each city in the competion, but in the end, Duluth came out on top, and for that we congratulate our neighbors.

According to Outside Magazine,

“The finalists in our Best Town Ever competition have a lot in common: thriving food scenes, walkable neighborhoods, and of course, incredible access to trails, rivers, mountains, and lakes.”

I did find it somewhat ironic that the first thing mentioned by Outside Magazine was thriving food scenes…not really an outside thing, but whatever!

Sure, Duluth is bigger. It’s more of a tourist destination. They have more restaurants and entertainment than Superior does. And of course, Canal Park is perhaps the closest thing to a tourist trap in the entire state of Minnesota. That said, let’s do a comparison and see how Superior stacks up with Duluth in some of the categories touted by Outside Magazine.

So Close, But NOT So Far

Hmmm…let’s explore this for a moment. Superior shares the same climate, the same Great Lake, the same river/bay, and many of the same features…we’re just a few miles to the south. Not only that, if you continue just a little bit further south to Lake Nebagemon, the weather is almost always better in the summer time there!

Okay, okay…we’re not on a hill, but we can see one from here (plus you’re less likely to fall on your keyster in the winter time.) The benefits of living on flat land include the brakes on your car lasting about two years longer, clutches seldom wear out, and you’re less likely to visit a body shop after sliding down a hill into the backend of another car!

Photo credit: Randen Pederson of Superior (Creative Commons license)

Photo credit: Randen Pederson of Superior (Creative Commons license)

Comparing Superior to Duluth’s by Outside Magazine’s Benchmark

Let’s dig in to the topics covered by Outside Magazine in there 2014 feature about Duluth. We do not mean to take anything away from Duluth in this article, but instead want to point out to some of our less positive thinking residents that we’ve got some great features to be proud of too.

The article starts off talking about the Duluth Rowing Club, where hardy adventurers venture out into the bay to row no matter how chilly the temp or how fast the winds are. That would be the same bay that we share with Duluth, the same bay that sees wind surfers from both states taking to the water.

In Superior, three local Rotary Clubs have been sponsoring the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival since 2002. This event brings upwards of 2000 paddlers to Barker’s Island in late August for a day of fun and fund raising.

A Couple of Watery Cities Indeed

Credit: Google Earth image of Superior/Duluth

Credit: Google Earth image of Superior/Duluth

Much is made of how Duluth has many rivers and streams, along with the fact that it is along the shoreline of Lake Superior…you know, that Great Lake out there that our city is named after. Superior is also framed by two rather large rivers, the Nemadji and the Saint Louis.

A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that Duluth’s total area is 87.43 square miles, 19.64 sq. mi. of which is water. Some helpful Wiki contributor has made a point of noting that Duluth is 22.46% is comprised of water. Superior’s Wikipedia page advises that Superior is 55.65 square miles, of which 18.69 are water, for a total of 33.58%. It seems then that although we have one square mile less water…we are a whole lot wetter than Duluth…and I’m not talking about bars!

Trails Abound

Duluth has lots of cross-country ski trails, and parks across its 26 mile length, and there is no doubt that outdoor opportunities abound for those so inclined to challenge their bodies. In fact, Duluth’s trail system is probably more developed than that seen in our community.

However, Superior has a little something we like to call the Superior Municipal Forest, the third largest forest within a city in the entire country! The forest is comprised of 4,400 acres of forest and natural habitat, and contains the best remaining example of a boreal forest in the entire state.

Download a map of the Superior Municipal Forest Multiuse Trail System Here

The Superior Forest offers many outdoor activities including hiking/mountain biking, archery hunting and an archery range, cross country skiing, skijoring, and snowshoeing, snowmobile & ATV trails, as well as canoeing, kayaking and boating. You can even go horseback riding on Billings Drive and 42nd Street.

Bud Somerville, Superior Curling Legend

Within the Superior Forest there are 26 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, for beginners, intermediate, and advanced skiers. Additionally, there are 10 kilometers of trails set aside for only snowmobiles and ATV.

In the summer these trails are perfect for day hikes, as are the multiple trails in our east end and on Barker’s Island.

Athletes Hail From Both Cities

Outdoor Magazine mentions athletes from Duluth, including more than 150 Olympians, including long-distance runner Kara Goucher, Nordic skier John Bauer, and the entire 2010 curling team. While I couldn’t tell you how many Olympians have emerged from Superior, I do know that the Bud Somerville “rink” was a two-time World champion, and five time American champion in curling. His rink also competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics when curling was still a demonstration sport.  

Bud Grant

I also seem to recall seeing a very impressive sports showcase in Superior High School that lists professional baseball (MLB), football (NFL), and hockey (NHL) players from Superior, not the least of which is Bud Grant, former and Vikings head coach and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There’s also that fellow I see at Rotary in Superior from time to time, one Doug Sutherland, UWS graduate and member of the Purple People Eaters of the 1970’s Vikings.

Doug Sutherland

Although not sports related, Superior also can claim a NASA Astronaut in Jeffrey Williams (the things you learn while looking up something else!) Although raised in Winter, WI, he was born in Superior and has served on multiple fights into space. In March 2016 he set the record for the most cumulative days in space at 534. Yeah, he wasn’t outside, but that’s a lot of time away from home!

Entrepreneurial Spirit Not Limited to Duluth

Outdoor Magazine spotlighted Joel and Emily Vikre who moved to Duluth from Boston to found an artisanal distillery in Canal Park, and shared how they have been welcomed with open arms by Duluthians. The partners at Bent Paddle Brewing also got a well-deserved tip of the hat for opening their new brewery in Duluth’s West End (sorry, it’ll always be the West End to me, not Lincoln Park).

Thirsty Pagan Brewing | Explore SuperiorDuluth is certainly home to several brew pubs, and the craft beer scene is bubbling in Duluth. Nonetheless, the first brew pub in the Twin Ports was none other than Twin Ports Brewing, established in 1996. Now known as Thirsty Pagan Brewing, this establishment has a great reputation as an excellent brewer.

Next up in Superior is a new brewery to be built on North 3rd in the former Leaman Mercantile Building. Tim Nelson, former partner of Fitger’s Brewhouse, purchased the Cedar Lounge at the beginning of 2016, and expects to establish Earth Rider Brewery, a working brewery just down the street within the year. You might say, things are brewing in Superior too!

Best Small Cities to Start a Business In

ES published another article about Superior that focuses on business and entrepreneurial opportunities that exist here. The inspiration for that article is ironically based on an April 17th post on Wallethub.com about the Best & Worst Small Cities to Start a Business in.

I won’t get into detail on that story at this time (gotta keep you wanting more you know), but I will say this much. Wallethub ranks Superior as the 16th best small city in America to start a business in! Superior scored 48.39 points versus the 50.22 that No. 1 ranked Holland, MI received. Significantly, 4th place East Chicago, Indiana scored 48.99, only .60 more than Superior.

You probably want to know how Duluth did in this survey I bet. Duluth placed #1171 with a score of 33.38. See this article HERE.

Superior Industry Substantial

Superior’s industrial base is large and diverse. The city has manufacturing (Genesis and Exodus,) energy (Enbridge and Calumet,) railroads (BNSF,) trucking (Halvorlines, Jeff Foster, Dave Evans, and more,) bulk marine cargo (CHS,) shipyard services (Fraser Shipyards and Lidgerwood-Mundy,) and boat building (Lake Assault.)

Superior is also home to Charter NEX Film, Telephone Associates, Viant Crane, and Superior Glass. Companies like these and more all provide many living wage (and above) jobs and careers for our residents.

At a time when many cities are losing their industrial base, Superior is on the build. Blue collar jobs of this nature not only support our workers and their families, but also create opportunities for employment in other sectors of business, including white collar professions and service jobs.

ES reached out to Bruce Thompson of National Bank of Commerce, who is also the leader of the Better City Superior group, for his input on what makes Superior a special place to live and do business. He shared the following with us:

“Industry and ingenuity like to cluster and of all the heavy industrial manufacturing start-ups that have happened in Superior over the years it was because of the strong work ethic, ingenuity, practical thinking, skill and teamwork of our residents. These attributes come from real genuine people who live real genuine lives that keep life and work balanced.”

“Superiorites love outdoor activities such as hunting/fishing/boating/ATV/Snowmobiling to name a few and are humbled by the awesome beauty of our natural surroundings. They love family, friends, local teams, local businesses and have a fierce loyalty and strong opinions whether the stage is local, state or national.”

“The members of our community also appreciate the advantages of short commute times, variety of weather, great school facilities, great educations, grounded attitudes, stable and respected/respectful employers and a safe community.”

Did Duluth Roots Sway Author?

Stephanie Pearson

Near the end of the article about Duluth we learn that the author, Stephanie Pearson, has Duluth roots. Her father grew up in Duluth and she was raised there, living adjacent to the 660 acre Hartley Field. I guess it was a happy coincidence that the writer of an article about the Best Town in America grew up there, but we’ll give her some grace. She is an accomplished writer and a world traveler (we just need her to visit Superior now!) View her blog HERE.

Ms. Pearson finishes her piece by urging people to “make the move” by talking about how affordable homes are in Duluth, citing the Riverside neighborhood with homes priced at $140K. Not sure what this has to do with being a great outdoor city, but I suppose getting an affordable home near the great outdoors has its merits. You can also find some pretty nice homes in all areas of Superior for less than $140,000. 

Pearson also spoke of the largest employers in Duluth being Essentia and UMD. Of course, Essentia has a Superior hospital too (albeit smaller,) a branch of St. Lukes in the Mariner Clinic, and both UWS and WITC graduate smart folks every year. Bottom line, our two communities have a lot in common, some differences, and both cities make for great places to live and work.

In Closing

As I said at the outset of this article, Duluth is a great city to live in and to visit. That said, I want to point out that Superior has many of the same features in a smaller town environment.

Full disclosure here…I grew up in Duluth and graduated from UMD. I even lived nearby and played in Hartley Field a LOT while growing up…perhaps Ms. Pearson and I crossed paths at some point. I do have Superior roots though…my mother Louise Olson graduated from Superior Central in 1952, and I’m confident I have family in Superior I’ve never met.

After doing business in Superior for over a decade, and having lived here for eight years, I have made more lasting friends and acquaintances here than I ever had in Duluth. I think the smaller environment is more conducive to bringing people together.

Superior has a lot of character and a friendliness factor that is more common in smaller cities. Check us out…if you’re lucky your friends will even shout out your name when you enter your favorite watering hole! 

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