Located right on the shore of the largest freshwater lake in the world, Duluth is no stranger to ship traffic.  The Port of Duluth-Superior is not only North America's farthest inland freshwater seaport, it's also one of its busiest. The working waterfront area is home to twenty privately-owned bulk cargo docks, a general cargo terminal, marine fueling depot, multiple shipyard with dry docks, tag and barge services, ad an intermodal cargo terminal.

All of that ship traffic for the port means economic potential for the area.  The Twin Ports is busy most of the year with ships hauling cargo in and out, providing jobs and economic growth for the area.

But what about people?  What about cruise chips? What about tourism?

Downtown Duluth cityscape skykline and Lake Superior in Duluth, MN
Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth

For years, people have talked about the economic potential that hosting cruise ships could bring for the Twin Ports.  However, even as the talk was on-going, not much has ever been done to promote or facilitate ship-traffic tourism.

Until now.

Recently, there have been a few people-based ships that have docked in Duluth.  A Viking Cruise Line ship is scheduled for arrival in 2022 - for seven different dockings. According to an article in the Duluth News Tribune, the estimated economic impact off of those seven dockings is about $677,000.  If seven visits from one ship have that sort of impact on the local economy, what would happen if the region invested in ship-based/cruise-based tourism as a port of call; what would happen if the region invested in marketing our area in that way?

Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth
Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth

A recent study was conducted to try and determine just that.  The study was a partnership between the University of Minnesota-Duluth's Bureau and Business and Economic Research and the Minnesota Sea Grant. The results bear good news for the area.

Details from the study - as shared by the Duluth News Tribune - outline the untapped potential:

"The study estimates that with 15 port of call visits, the Twin Ports could reap between $1.2 million and $3.1 million.  And it projects that at 40 visits, cruise lines could interject $3.1 million to $8.1 million into the local economy, also supporting about 60 new jobs."

Those dollar amounts don't take into account the impacts of making our area the home port for these vessels - only as a visitor. The study shows that those dollar amounts could drive higher "because people often arrive in town early for cruise trips or linger for an extra night when they return".

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So what have Duluth port leaders done to cultivate this potential cruise ship traffic?  Clearly the agencies involved are thinking and studying.  Some have also started spending money towards the goal.  "To date, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority and the Duluth Economic Development Authority have invested a combined $40,000 to design a facility that could efficiently and effectively welcome waterborne international travelers".

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