Thursday, February 29, 2024
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The Long Way Home

While moving eight to ten inches of what I hope is the last big winter storm of the season I found myself pondering some of the econom­ic and life lessons I keep bumping up against. Nothing like the routine of filling a sleigh shovel and sliding it to the side of the drive to open up the mind for pondering.

My mother-in-law was widowed quite young, and she chose George Guthrie when she mar­ried again a few years later. George, unlike me, was an educated man. He held a MBA and had spent his working years with Soo Line Rail­road as its Director of Corporate Planning. His experience with strategy and accounting was most helpful when I ran for the Minnesota Legislature.

George was not the most sociable of chaps, but he found me brilliant and shared lots of good stuff with me whenever we were togeth­er.

He told me that transportation leads to devel­opment. Most every major city developed on a port or near the confluence of two or more rivers. Transportation.

To connect those cities, railroads were built. Along the railroads, development of agricul­ture and manufacturing rose. Many towns sprung up just to service the railroads. Las Vegas, NV is an example of that. In that vast desert, available

water in The Meadows (Las Vegas translated) allowed the railroads a place to fill thirsty locomotives.

Logging, fishing, and mining developed in our region because of the transportation net­works on Lake Superior. To further transpor­tation, rugged trails that connected our region to the port city of Duluth were paved and US Highway 61 was created. In more recent years the highway was improved. Hills were leveled, curves were straightened, and tunnels were drilled to replace some treacherous cliffside stretches perched perilously over the big lake. An Expressway connected Duluth to Two Har­bors and sections of passing lanes were built between Two Harbors and Silver Bay. The highway 61 improvements allowed local busi­nesses easier access to suppliers and customers and led to a rapid increase in tourism and real estate development.

George was right. Transportation leads to development.

My pondering continued to how stuff ex­pands to fill the space allotted to it. No matter how big you build your garage, cars almost al­ways lose out to bikes, golf clubs, lawn mow­ers, and blue sleigh snow shovels.

No matter how much storage space you build into your home, the holiday decorations, old clothes, family photos, and the general paper­work of life spill out of it.

It’s also true that organizations–business and government–see employee growth outpacing the space–financial and physical–allotted to it.

So, I’m not surprised that Cook County is trying to figure out how to get more office space as it considers its so-called Capital Im­provement Plan for County Buildings.

The county reported 5,188 residents in 2013. In 2020 population numbered 5,417, a relative­ly modest increase of five percent over seven years. In 2013, county staffing was the equiv­alent of 104 full time positions. Now, it is 126 positions. An increase of more than 21%. Ap­parently those positions (people) need more space now and the county is considering a significant addition to the courthouse to house them. Transportation leads to development. Stuff expands to exceed its space. And “po­sitions”

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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