Duluth is getting soft—on computers, that is

Minnesota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1998  | April 1998 issue

A $30 million project is getting under way in Duluth that will bring together area and international information technology companies and the region's post-secondary institutions—and at the same time rejuvenate a city block in the old downtown neighborhood.

The focal point of the Duluth Technology Village will be the Duluth Soft Center, an international information technology development and operations center modeled after a similar program in Ronneby, Sweden, which involves 75 computer software companies and about 1,000 university students. "What the model does is create a synergy between the companies and students and between the companies working with each other," says Michael McNamara, executive director of Team Duluth, a public-private business development group that has spearheaded the project.

Duluth would be the first U.S. Soft Center and the North American port of entry for European software companies that want to enter this market, says McNamara. The Swedish group also has agreed to consult with the Duluth program as it evolves over the next three years. McNamara sees Duluth not only as the U.S. port of entry for European companies but a jumping off point for American software companies entering the European market.

The village's first stage includes replacing a decaying city corner with a new building and a 300-car municipal parking ramp, both scheduled for completion late this year. More building space and another 300 parking places are projected for a later phase of the project.

Plans call for moving some University of Minnesota Duluth students and professors into the center for classes, consulting and internships. Other area post-secondary institutions also will be invited to participate, according to McNamara. The Soft Center will provide an opportunity for internships and perhaps future employment for those graduates who may want to remain in the area, McNamara says.

One of the first Soft Center tenants will be DMR Consulting Group, an information technology firm based in Montreal, which is opening a small office in Duluth and will relocate to the center in early 1999. The company's recent job fair is a strong indication of the talent in the Duluth area, McNamara says. Applying for 50 DMR jobs were 675 applicants—three-fourths of whom were qualified.

"The Soft Center will really bring us into the 21st century," says McNamara. "Duluth has been a world port for earth-based industries, now we want it to be an information port."

See further information on the Soft Center Duluth.