Almanac North | Tourism

Almanac North | Tourism

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(upbeat music) (upbeat music continues) - Welcome to Almanac North, I'm Maarja Hewitt. Today we are speaking with Superintendent of Duluth Public Schools, John Magas, about the upcoming special ballot item, Future Forward 709. We pay a visit to Bayfield and their Chamber of Commerce public relations manager, Katie Anderson, and visit with Jay Walker, the executive director of the Great Lakes Aquarium.

A glimpse toward the end of the school year, and what summer tourism looks like in our region is what's ahead tonight on Almanac North. But first, it is the beginning of a busy conclusion to the Minnesota legislative session. In a compromise reached Monday between legislative leaders, the Minneapolis City Council and rideshare drivers, would give the drivers a raise they say is needed. But representatives for ride hailing companies, Uber and Lyft say the agreed upon pay mandate would be damaging for riders and drivers, and both companies would be forced to shut down statewide.

Neither company was involved in the negotiations. The House Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee took an initial step toward that outcome, Tuesday, by approving HF 4746 as amended on an 84-party line vote, and referring it to the House Ways and Means Committee. Sponsored by a representative Holden Hassan, DFL Minneapolis, the bill would mandate rideshare companies pay a statewide minimum wage rate of $1.27 per mile, and 49 cents per minute for any transportation of a rider by a driver. "House File 4746 seeks to respond to practices that companies like Uber and Lyft and others employ to lower costs and undercut their rivals," Hassan said.

Representatives for Uber and Lyft told lawmakers the pay rate would still make their service unsustainable in Minnesota. On Tuesday, the Minnesota Senate passed House File 4247, which contained numerous healthcare licensure proposals and scope of practice modifications, including several authored by Senator Liz Bolden, DFL Rochester. After the legislation passed with bipartisan support, Senator Bolden released the following statement. "During my time at the legislature, one of my priorities has always been expanding access to healthcare and increasing the quality of care in our state." Governor Tim Walls signed four bills into law on Wednesday, Chapter 89, House File 3071 requires that Minnesota driver and vehicle services simplify the language of the driver's knowledge examination.

Chapter 97, House File 4661 makes technical and policy changes to improve the workers' compensation process for businesses and injured workers. Chapter 99, House File 4310, ratifies compensation plans for several state positions. And Chapter 100, House File 3454 is the Veterans and Military Affairs Policy Omnibus Bill. As the session is coming to an end, lawmakers are working around the clock to get more legislation across the Governor's desk.

A lot of action happening at the Capitol now, and a little closer to home, Superintendent of Duluth Public Schools, John Magas, joins me at the desk to speak about the Future Forward 709. John, thank you so much, welcome to Almanac North. - Thanks for having me. - So maybe we can start with a brief overview of the Future Forward 709 capital projects and what it means. - Sure, so we're going for a 10 year levy.

It's a technology levy for $5.2 million per year. So that would be a total of, about $52 million over that 10 year period. After the 10 year period, it would need to be renewed by voters if they were interested in doing so. So basically it focuses on technology for our students and staff. Also on safety, both cybersecurity and physical safety, and career and technical education supports for our students as well. - So a similar referendum in November narrowly failed, what lessons did you learn, and did you make changes to the new proposal? - Sure, thank you.

So the referendum, we had two referendum questions. The first one passed with a very large majority. The second question failed by about 291 votes outta 33,000. So it was so close, so we went back to stakeholders, we listened to the stakeholders and really made some adjustments. We wanted to make sure that we had the funding for the technology we needed for our students, but we also heard that people wanted more hands-on learning opportunities. So we incorporated a segment on career and technical education, thinking about those needs for healthcare, for engineering, for hospitality, thinking about the plumbers and carpenters, and others that we'll need in the future.

We wanted to make sure that we were able to replace some of our equipment as it's over 70 years old. - Sure, and so how, how do you communicate what this includes with the voters? How do you educate? - Yes, I think that's a really important question. So our job is not to say whether to vote yes or to vote no on this, it's to get the information out.

So we have a website,, and we've also done many, many public appearances and meetings, I've had probably close to a hundred meetings over the course of the past couple of months trying to make sure that people are well informed, because I think it's really our duty to make sure that our voters know what they're going into the polls about. It will increase taxes, but there are also some things that we have that we think are very important for our students.

- So let's talk about the technology investments, like what does that look like? Smart boards? And how does it help with an engaging learning environment? - Yes, so really when we think about technology, when we went into the pandemic, Duluth didn't have the one-to-one devices that most districts have. We were delivering packets by school bus, actually. But we ended up ordering quite a few devices and making sure that our students had those devices. But this is far more than devices, it's thinking about our smart boards, it's thinking about our sound systems we have, it's thinking about the auditorium replacements and things that we have going on, as well as cybersecurity and safety.

But when we think about what our kids are needing for the future, we wanna make sure that we're using technology in ways that are really responsible and teaching our students to be responsible, engaged digital citizens. So really thinking about how can we use these devices and this technology to prepare our kids for the the future. - I think about how different it is from when I was in school, you know. And it was exciting to get a computer or things like that.

But they're growing up with this, that it's gonna be a big part of their life. - Yes, yes. And I think it's important that we work with our students to make sure that we're using it well, and using it responsibly. But again, there's also aspects of cybersecurity, of safety, of thinking, making sure that our teachers are really well trained up so that, that we're not just using technology as a fancy pencil or something that they can use to access the internet for YouTube or things like that, but we're really using it for highly engaging, very motivating, very individualized student learning opportunities - With 17% of the budget dedicated to cybersecurity and physical safety, what specific outcomes are you expecting to achieve with the enhanced security measures in schools? - Well, unfortunately, hackers are purposely targeting young students, that's something that's been happening these days, and we wanna make sure that our data is safe. We wanna make sure that we're not being hacked.

Also, when we think about the physical security, we think about our swipe card systems, we think about our camera systems in our schools. Some of our camera systems are over 17 years old. And when you think about the age of technology and how things have change, we wanna make sure that we're keeping our students safe, both on online and physically. - And what does the professional development look like for teachers? - So thinking about staff development, we wanna make sure that we're working on a regular basis with our teachers so that they're well supported to use the technology in really engaging ways, making sure that they know the best ways of making sure we're keeping our students safe during with the technology use, but also thinking about how are they using it for collaboration, how are they using it to promote higher order thinking skills, and really do so in a way that's individualized for our student needs. I think that the way technology is evolving, and when we think about the use of artificial intelligence in education, that's gonna be really a cutting edge thing that all school districts are gonna need to examine and we're gonna need to make sure we have the tools for tomorrow. - Can you explain how the property tax increase was calculated and what the expected tax impact would be for homeowners? - Sure, so if you look at medium price household for the assessed value in Duluth, it's $315,000.

And so for the average medium priced home, that would result in a tax increase of $10.87. And so there is a tax calculator on our website where you can find out exactly how much your individual household taxes would be, and so that's at - Okay, and how do people, there's a few ways to vote, early voting. How can people learn more about that and what are the ways? - Sure, so again, you can go to the website or you can look at our city site for voting information, but you can vote in person now, you can vote early in person at the city hall, or there are various other locations.

As far as in-person voting on the 14th, the polls will be open from 7, I believe 7:30, 7 or 7:30 until 8 o'clock. And then, so there's that in person way. And then there's also absentee ballot ballot. So you could vote by absentee ballot. So it's really important that people get out and exercise their civic duty and vote on May 14th. - And it sounds like you have a lot of great information on that website that you...

- Yes, lots of information there. So there's lots of detailed information under resources and other areas. So if you have specific questions, feel free to reach out, but also take a look at those resources, and we're glad to answer any questions. - And finally just looking like at, with a wider lens, like how does this levy or referendum fit into like the greater strategic plan of Duluth Public Schools. - Thank you. So really when we think about our strategic plan, we have three focus areas; supporting every student, advancing equity, and improving systems.

And so really this hits all. When we think about how we serve our students through technology, we really can use it for more engaging ways. When we think about equity, not every household has a device and making sure that we have devices for all of our students, that's an equity issue. And then improving systems, we need to make sure that we have the best systems for safety, the best infrastructure we have, so that we can really be prepared for tomorrow. - Well John, thank you so much for joining us, we really appreciate the information, and maybe you could share that website one more time.

- Thanks. It's, and we really appreciate people voting now, or on May 14th.

Thank you. - Thanks. The Almanac North team took a journey to Bayfield to meet with public relations manager, Katie Anderson, to learn more about tourism in our region and how visitors to our area impact everyone. - Hi, I'm Katie Anderson, I'm the public relations manager for the Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau. So my role here at the Bayfield Chamber is really, along with me and my boss, we're the face of the organization.

So, a lot of times what I do is connect our membership base with our campaigns, and our marketing strategies, and things like that, and making sure that our members are all on board, and are aware of what we're doing in the community, as well as communicating out to public relations, entities, magazines, media, all the great things that Bayfield has to offer. Well, tourism, the tourism industry in Bayfield and in Bayfield County in general is the lifeblood of this area. Every business, whether people realize it or not, has been touched by tourism because from our local shops downtown, shops and restaurants, they benefit from the tourists, to even our more commercial entities, contractors, plumbers, things like that.

We have found that a lot of people who come here at least once, they're gonna come back again. And some of those people come back and they buy a home here, or their second home here, or maybe they even start their own business here. So the total economic impact for Bayfield County as a whole in 2022 was at $89 million. So yeah, definitely very important for our economy here. We have had a lot of new businesses open up, so that's definitely, and they keep popping up, more and more people are looking to have businesses here in Bayfield, whether that's a brick and mortar type of place, or maybe it's just a home business.

But we're definitely seeing that expand on our membership side. And that's really great for Bayfield. We've had a lot of business owners take buildings that were, there was nothing in them, and now there's- And refurbish them and breathe new life into them. So a lot of new opportunities are coming there.

While all of our businesses here are locally owned, we don't have any franchises or Big Box stores along the main drag, it's all locally owned business. Everyone here is friendly, they're willing to help you along your journey, whether it's your first time here or your 100th time here. I think tourism is definitely worth investing in. Like I said, here it is our lifeblood, it's exciting, it is ever changing. You never know, I never know what's gonna walk through the door here or what questions I'm gonna be able to answer, but that, that makes for an exciting day.

And then also, especially if you like event planning or things like that, events really draw people to the area, 'cause people are looking for things to do. They're looking for that experience. So if you're creative and like coming up with new ideas to draw people and bring people together, the tourism industry is a great one to be in. - To keep the conversation on tourism going, our next guest is the executive director of the Great Lakes Aquarium, Jay Walker. Jay, welcome to Almanac North.

- Hi Maarja, I'm glad to be here. - We're happy to have you here. So the Aquarium, it's- I was there recently with both my boys, and it seems like you have a lot going on behind closed doors, some new exhibits coming? - Yeah, absolutely, we have a new exhibit that we're gonna be opening early part of the summer, and it's, it's called Oceans Alive. And this is a, it's taking the place of, we used to have a, it's kind of a changing exhibit gallery we had in there, we had our Shipwrecks Gather exhibit in there before, but now we're gonna be changing it over to oceans. And this exhibit is going to talk about all the different, different habitats around the world, and how climate change is affecting those, but then also telling the story of how climate change is being mitigated around the world as well, and locally. So it's a really exciting exhibit.

We have three very interesting animals that I know that people are gonna really, really be excited to see. One of them is, we're gonna have American eels. So since this is a, this is a global discussion, we're talking about one of the coolest fish, in my opinion, it's the American eel that travels over 2000 miles from its spawning site into rivers. It spawns in an area just off the coast of Florida, in saltwater, so it's different from salmon.

You know, like salmon are fish that spawn in freshwater, live in saltwater, these spawn in saltwater and live in freshwater. And so it goes from Sargasso sea, and then travels up the eastern sea, the St. Lawrence Seaway, through the Great Lakes, into Lake Superior and lives for about 20 years before it heads back to spawn again. - Oh wow. - It's just fascinating. - Oh, that is interesting. - And then we have two other animals.

One is a sea dragon, which is an animal only found in Australia. It's like a large seahorse, very unique. And then everybody's very excited about, I am too, the eight legged octopus. So the giant Pacific octopus, so we're really excited to show this display. - Oh, that's awesome, so that's early summer? - That's gonna be early summer... - Something to look forward to.

- Planned to open that in June. - So how has the past year, like looking at tourism and visitors for the Great Lakes Aquarium, how has the past year been for you guys in terms of visitors and numbers? - Oh, past, it's been really great. Last year we had a record year, actually we've had record year since the pandemic, which has been just wonderful. I think after the pandemic in 2021, we saw our numbers coming back, and we're beating numbers pre pandemic. And we felt like that might be just a jump because people were so sick of being, you know, kind of shut in and just wanted to get out, and also maybe didn't wanna fly, so traveling from the cities to Duluth would be the way to go.

But we haven't seen it end. The next year we beat that record, and then last year we saw again another record attendance, and this year we're beating last year. So it's just, it's been phenomenal. We've seen a market difference in numbers coming. - What are some marketing strategies that work for the aquarium? - You know, for us it's really the family.

You know, it's really focusing in on those family experiences. And we have so many different exhibits that are hands-on. And the best way that you can learn about something, interact with something is hands-on. Obviously you can come touch a jellyfish or touch a sturgeon, but then we also have our water table, and people can get wet.

- Oh, I know the water table well - Absolutely, you have children, you always bring an extra pair of clothes. - Yes. - Yeah. And so those type of experiences are really important. So when we see families that are coming to town, we really wanna focus in on this is a great, great family experience. - Are there any areas that the aquarium wants to grow in terms of visitorship? Like when, like maybe the demographic you're going after or areas you're going after? - Yeah, you know, I think it's really is just trying to to lean into that family experience, is a big part. Though we also do, you know, there's the tourism discussion, but there's also local and how, and using our facility in different ways.

We have some really fun events we do in the evening. Like we just did a Valentine's Day event here back in February, which was really popular, and that actually does bring in a different audience. And we families are great, but then at night, the aquarium's a different experience.

And so, you know, having an opportunity to see the exhibits and have a cocktail and maybe listen to some music and then pet a sturgeon is a really fun thing to do. - Right, highlight to locals that you have this in, this is in their backyard. - Absolutely, yeah. And then like this summer we do our beer gardens too. And so that's another way that people can utilize the space.

And that's actually free, you have to pay for beer, but you can come and listen to, we partner with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, they bring a quartet down and. - Oh that's fine. - And so just finding some new ways to use our space has been a real big push for us in the last few years.

- How do you work with other organizations in the tourism industry here in Duluth to, you know, promote Duluth as a destination? - Well, you know, actually this year we're starting a new program called Duluth Passport. And that is with the Railroad Museum, North Shore Scenic Railroad and with the Irving. And so you can buy one ticket, then you get basically a pass to all three organizations. So it's a way for us to collaborate, it's a way to create, to get some interest in the facility, in Duluth, but then get to see three attractions for the price of two in essence.

- So it's a really great way to- Also repeat visitors, 'cause it lasts for the year, so if you maybe don't get a chance to see the everybody, you can come back and see the third one. - Right, you can't always make all the attraction visits happen in one weekend, so. - Absolutely. But we also partner with the Children's Museum and the Lake Spear Zoo, and we do some, some partnerships with them too. And it's just, it's just, that's what's wonderful about the Duluth attractions is, we're really collaborative and we do, we try to get together and think of ways that we can work together.

- Yeah, looking ahead for the aquarium, are there other programs or expansions you're planning? Obviously a big exhibit on the horizon, so that's probably the big focus right now. - Well, you know, actually, we're opening this one in the summer and then we're turning around and we're working on another new one for next year that we plan to open in 2025. - No rest. - So really, I don't know what we're thinking, but we're redoing our Origins display, and we're gonna be expanding on some of our touch pool experiences. And so yeah, that's gonna be a really exciting exhibit as well.

- So the touch pools like the jellyfish. - Yeah. - Sea anemone. - Correct. - Yep, okay. - Yep, well, in this one we're going to also be adding in a, expanding on our jellyfish end, but then also adding in a plasma break touch pool, which is for, which is sharks. So, so that's gonna be really cool.

- Oh, cool, that's really cool. In what ways does the aquarium engage with, like the local Duluth community to foster like a supportive environment for tourism? - Well, you know, I think, it really is obviously trying to, as I said, changing displays and keeping some new exciting experiences for people, is really helping foster tourism because it gives people something to come back for. And especially when we do like new exhibits, you know, they learn about the, something that's happening, and it'll help drive those repeat visits.

I think right now, you know, just in general, it's such a great time to visit Duluth. I mean, if we look at where we are in our currently, there's so many things that, there's something for everybody is the best way I can think about. I mean, with our great bike trails, we have a group of people that, you are that adventuresome group and wonderful places to eat and drink, and just, there's kind of something for everybody. And it's just a, it's really great to be part of that and to be part of that fabric of our niches, you know, working with those family, or being a place that families can visit. But then also, you know, we do some other things too that, that, you know, if you just like a couple coming to visit, it's great.

Like actually we see numbers increasing on the shoulder seasons, which is also really exciting, so I think that's showing... - So shoulder seasons are kind of the, like that's... - Spring and fall, right? So that's really nice to see the increase, which really shows, there's a lot of things that people are coming to see.

- Which might not be quite as enticing to some, but I know there are efforts in the tourism community to highlight those seasons. You know, like waterfall season that. - Oh yeah, waterfall season, leaf watchers, you know, is one thing. But then we have like, you know, Bentleyville and that brings a lot of people in during the holidays. Just, it's really great to see that. And then the winter sports obviously this year is a little- Was a little tricky, but, you know, it'll, I guarantee the snow will be back.

- Yes it will, yes it will. - For sure. - Alright, well Jay, thank you so much for joining us. - Absolutely, Maarja, thanks so much.

- Well before we go, here's a look at what you might be up to this weekend. On Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, celebrate the 155th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Lake Superior Railroad Museum will be hosting special events to celebrate, including railroad speeder rides, a railroad swap meet, engine cab tours, kids crafts, and more. Saturday at 11:00 AM celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Month at the Superior Public Library. This special month pays tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America's history and are instrumental in its future success. The event is in the youth services area and includes stories, crafting, and fun.

And of course, this weekend is the Minnesota Fishing Opener. Be aware of others if you plan on getting out and testing your luck in the waters. And as always, be safe. A list of everything you need to know is available at the Minnesota DNR website. Make sure you get out and enjoy your weekend.

I'm Maarja Hewitt, thank you for joining us on Almanac North, I'll see you all next time. Goodnight. (upbeat music) (upbeat music continues)

2024-05-16 23:02

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