Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

A little boosterism can go a long way in a small town


It’s my firm belief that in small towns, attitude is everything. A community that feels optimistic and positive about its future, is a community that will invest in itself and will, as a result, generally succeed. By contrast, when civic leaders focus mainly on the negative, it’s an attitude that can permeate a small town, and discourage new investment in homes and businesses. Who wants to invest in a dying community, after all?

That’s why I’ve been frustrated over the years by the persistence of negativity among far too many influential folks in Ely. Anyone who has ventured from the backwoods to partake in the political discussions in the community in the past few decades has certainly heard the litany of woe about the gasping economy at the end of the road.

As someone who lives 25 minutes from the end of the road, it’s always struck me as incongruous, given that Ely has long been viewed by most folks in the region as the most vibrant and economically-thriving small city around. And it’s not even a close contest. Compared to any other place in the region, Ely is the one with real mojo.

Still, there’s that persistent Eeyore complex that emanates constantly from city leaders or local media about how tough things are in town. When school enrollment dips, the “woe-is-us” crowd is almost gleeful. When a Pizza Hut closes, it’s heralded as the end of days for the town’s economy. When Standard and Poors recently assigned Ely a strong AA- long-term bond rating, it included a brief notation that it considered Ely’s economy to be “weak.” Now, the bond-rating agency would undoubtedly consider most small town economies, and certainly those here in northeastern Minnesota, to be weak, but it was greeted nonetheless as a kind of thrilling confirmation that the doom and gloom finally had some independent validation. The mayor touted it at a city council meeting. It was front-page news in at least one paper in town, generating an editorial as well. You could almost see the fist-pumping behind closed doors.

Now I certainly don’t think it’s the role of community leaders or newspaper editors to be relentlessly positive, or to gloss over real issues that affect our communities. Every small town has its challenges that need to be confronted in a constructive manner.

At the same time, however, what community leaders say does matter. When a television crew comes to town, as they frequently do in Ely, it would be nice if local leaders could tout all the great things happening when the microphone is placed in front of their faces, and leave the tale of woe to entertain the troops after hours. A little boosterism can go a long way in a small town.

Most of us, of course, understand that the context of all this centers around the great divide in Ely— copper-nickel mining. The “woe-is-us” folks believe a mine will bring back the good old days of a prosperous Ely, while the “things-are-looking-up” side believe it will only spoil the community’s transition to what I call a “quality-of-life” economy. The arguments about the state of Ely’s economic health tend to center around that underlying debate.

I’m not going to attempt to resolve that dispute here, except to say that any objective observer would take Ely’s main drag over Virginia’s any day of the week, and Virginia is surrounded by mines. Mining never brings anything but periodic bursts of prosperity followed by economically-destructive depressions. No one familiar with the history of the Range can deny that fundamental fact.

My main point, however, is that communities reap what they sow. And one of the best ways to ensure your town’s economy suffers is to keep on telling everyone how tough things are. It comes down to self-fulfilling prophecies. Talk is usually cheap, but it can sometimes be expensive, particularly when it’s deployed to relentlessly denigrate your community’s economy.

Fortunately, there are plenty of folks in Ely who understand this dynamic. It’s probably no coincidence that when a group of real, honest-to-goodness community boosters got together in Ely a few years ago, they selected “Incredible Ely” as the name of their organization. That’s powerful marketing just in a name. When our community development group got rolling in Tower recently, we joked we should call ourselves “Equally Incredible Tower.”

That’s what I find to be so bemusing about the Eeyore crowd in Ely. What they seem unwilling to recognize is that when it comes to economic vibrancy in our region, Ely is widely viewed as the gold standard by which every other community up here judges itself. And after so many years of it, all the moping at the end of the road just comes across as whining.

If the copper-nickel debate entrenches this same dynamic for the next 15-20 years, which is the soonest a mine would ever happen, it won’t be good news for Ely. Badmouth your town long enough and you pay a steep price.

Rather than dwelling on rusty memories of a long-ago golden age, that for far too many reasons to list here is never coming back (if it ever existed at all), everyone in Ely needs to focus on building a community that exudes optimism for the future, and builds on the many assets that do, in fact, make Ely pretty incredible. Let’s give the doom and gloom a rest.


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Steve Jacobson

So let's just look at the scenario - Pizza Hut closed, why, the owners made too much money? School enrollment is down, why, kids are quitting school? I guess I'm wondering what to rah rah about here in Ely. People like you Marshall like the aspect of the BWCA and how many tourists it draws and how vibrant the community is because of it. Yet, studies have proven that less and less of the younger generation want to spend a week camping and disconnecting from the world. In fact, the decreases are actually larger than the decreases in mining jobs percentage wise. I believe that mining and mining jobs have the potential to grow. I don't believe we will ever in our lifetimes see usage of the BWCA grow. The fewer users may be more vocal, heck, they may take off for two years to paddle around to prove their point. But as those average age users of 55 become 70 you will find even less usage.

Again, regarding mining, the mining income is very desirable. I, myself live very comfortable with a mining income. At the same time I am also concerned about the environment. But from research investigated by myself I feel that this is a viable and safe method of mining. Yes, I do believe there are risks but risks worth taking.

Marshall, your business, owning a paper is part of the diversity we need up here. But at the same time you needed to ask for help to raise twelve thousand dollars to defend yourself against Albertson. Don't get me wrong I am completely behind you on this lawsuit but if you are not able to aquire enough money from subscriptions maybe you too can realize that we need full time jobs year round and not just maybe six month lower paying service incomes.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Good read. Much of the tourist industry wants a positive attitude and people want a positive feedback when they visit a place. They want to feel wanted.

Many friends in the past always said Ely was their go town and area to visit and enjoy the outdoors.

But some and it is very few treated the them negatively when they came. Ely has to put a smile back on like it once had.

Ely can be the visit and have fun. The jumping off place.

Friday, October 7, 2016
Jodi Summit

Yes, Pizza Hut closed, but a new locally-owned restaurant has opened up in its place, and the profits from this business will stay in Ely, not go to some corporate headquarters. The decision to close was a corporate one, and one that included many other sites in NE Minnesota.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Steve Jacobson

Most franchised businesses are locally owned. The profits stay local except for a predetermined percentage that is paid for royalties and national advertising. These percentages are very minimal considering the national exposure. If it was not owned by a local franchisee it was what they call a corporate store. Yes, if it was a corporately owned store the profits go to the corporate. But if you look at which stores closed they were most likely underperforming stores that were no longer making a profit or a enough profit for corporate to justify to continue operation. Again, I will repeat that stores don't generally close because they made too much money.

I have also thought about the statement by the original poster that stated Mining never brings anything but periodic bursts of prosperity followed by economically-destructive depressions. I have worked in the mines for over ten years and luckily have never been layed off. The worst that has happened is that they took away unlimited overtime which has since been restored. If you really want to see periodic bursts of prosperity followed by economically-destructive depressions just spend a complete year in Ely. Each summer the town is bustling with most business owners prospering. Then visit Ely in March when these same businesses are hanging on for dear life waiting for the "Boom" period to begin again. So I would say back off on knocking the mining as a bad business and prove to all local businesses your burst of prosperity which lasts year long and not for three to five months a year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pizza Hut stores in Minnesota as a whole are not doing very well. There probably be many more Pizza Huts closing.

Thursday, October 13, 2016
Steve Jacobson

Lets just hope the new owners can withstand the economically-destructive depression here in Ely which is known more by the local owners as "Winter"! Of course what's to worry? They can rely on the constant traffic from the tourist going up to the BWCA for the next six months right?

Friday, October 14, 2016
Heidi Mann

Very well stated! My family and I fell in love with Ely over the course of three non-tourist-season visits here over 18 months -- so much so that we decided to move here! We did indeed -- and still do -- find it to be a vibrant, friendly, warm, and active community, and a great place to raise our kids, who were in 5th and 11th grade when they started in the Ely schools.

Sure, the student population has decreased over the years, but while mine closures surely contributed to that, Ely is far from alone in that circumstance. Small-town schools across the state (we came from western Minnesota) lament the same thing. In actuality, Ely School District numbers are on the rise, and our family has been impressed with the rich variety of opportunities our kids are afforded through the school system.

We also love the ever-present and diverse cultural events, groups, and activities available in Ely -- from concerts to lectures to Ely Folk School classes to book groups to volunteer and service opportunities to Winterset to the Wolf Track Classic to theater productions to... Truthfully, there is so much to do without ever leaving town that we often find ourselves having to make tough choices, as well as not wanting to travel to spend holidays and school vacations elsewhere because we don't want to miss events here!

So yes, let's focus on the positives of Ely, because they are MANY!

| Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Heidi Mann

In my previous comment, it should say Winterfest. Sometimes auto-correct on my tablet gets the best of me!

| Tuesday, October 18, 2016