Why Is Cook County So Poor?
- Posted by Jeff Carter
- on August 28th, 2012
Just got back from a trip to Grand Marias, MN. Had a long chat with Stan Tull who writes the Murmur Creek Observatory blog. Stan and I agree on some politics, and differ on some others. He enlightened me into some of the goings on in Cook County, Minnesota.
My grandfather built a place in the woods up there back in around 1974. I have been going up virtually every summer since. It’s not a very luxurious place. Outhouse equipped. Solar power. No running water except from a spring they found years ago on the hill. But, I love it up there.
One thing that has always intrigued me is why the county was so poor. Cook County is the poorest county in Minnesota and has been for years. Stan and I wondered about that and Stan offered a few suggestions as to how they could elevate their income levels.
He had some decent ideas. Grand Marais is a good spot for a microbrewery. If someone knew what they were doing there is plenty of tourism up there to provide some business. If that someone knew how to do some good target marketing, they could turn their brewery into a boutique brand people would drive miles for.
But one thing Stan said really got me thinking. He said, “We rely so much on tourism up here. We don’t make stuff.”
What a great point. They don’t make anything in Cook County. Virtually every little town you run through is set up to attract tourists. Or, there might be some kitschy north shore artists. You know, guys that make art out of chain saws and rocks-or starving artists. A legendary photographer, Jim Brandenburg, lives up there. Here is one of his photos. I love his photography and he is a true artist.
But, there are only so many artists. So I dug a little deeper. First, Minnesota itself isn’t a very friendly state to do business in. High taxes, high regulation. 29th out of 50. It’s got either a great climate, or a really crappy one depending on what kind of weather you like! For sure, if you are a winter buff, Minnesota is a great state for you.
The population of Minnesota is pretty well educated, but the population in Cook County is not. The high school is small, 200 students. They don’t have the resources you’d find at a big suburban high school. There is a community college system. In Duluth, they have the University of Minnesota-Duluth, which is probably more famous for hockey than academics.
But, Cook County has beautiful scenery. Some of the most striking in the US. Additionally, there are huge forests, lots of minerals, lakes, rivers, and plenty of animals. It is not uncommon to see deer, hear wolves, see moose or bear.
But one thing Stan said really got me thinking. 90% of the land in Cook County is owned by government. At the World’s Best Donuts, they have a sign that shows only 8% of the land is in public hands.
Some of that makes sense. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is largely located in Cook County. The world famous Gunflint Trail starts in Grand Marais.
So, it would reason to believe that a lot of the land is in federal hands. It would further be easy to reason that a lot of tourists come to paddle the trail, snowmobile in winter and so businesses would cater to them.
But Stan’s question on making something still hangs in the air.
I understand that there is an interest in preserving a pristine canoe and park experience. But, does so much of the land have to be in federal hands. Or is there a way to sell off the land that is just a “buffer”, and keep the park part? Then entrepreneurs could buy up the land and create something with it. Maybe a logging company. Maybe a furniture company. Maybe a mining company. Maybe a dairy or farm.
It seems to me that like just about everywhere else that is poor, government plays a big role in keeping people poor. It’s impossible to do anything up there that isn’t regulated or taxed. Honest to Pete, they even have a cross country skiing tax!
So that might be an interesting experiment to try. Sell off a bunch of the land and let individuals take over. Deregulate and lower taxes. Incentivize production. If they did that, I bet incomes and standards of living would rise. What they have done for the last half century hasn’t worked. Might as well try something different.
The information in this blog post represents my own opinions and does not contain a recommendation for any particular security or investment. I or my affiliates may hold positions or other interests in securities mentioned in the Blog, please see my Disclaimer page for my full disclaimer.
Jeffrey Carter is an angel investor and independent trader. He specializes in turning concepts into profits. He co-founded Hyde Park Angels one of the most active angel groups in the United States in April of 2007. He previously served on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Board of Directors. He has done market commentary for (More...)
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