Partner Spotlight – Port of Duluth-Superior

Port of Duluth-Superior

Located at the western-most point of Lake Superior on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, the Port of Duluth-Superior is considered the “bulk cargo capital” of the Great Lakes.


Truly the start of the seaway system, the Port of Duluth-Superior connects the U.S. and Canadian heartland to the rest of the world. It is the backbone of the region’s economy, providing maritime transportation for a wide variety of industries including mining, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, construction and power generation—handling commodities ranging from iron ore (#1 nationally), coal, limestone, grain, cement and salt to wood pulp/paper, steel coil, wind turbine components and other heavy-lift project cargo.

For half a century, more than 90 percent of iron ore production in the U.S. has been mined from Lake Superior deposits, with Minnesota providing the majority of iron ore mined in the country. (Minnesota iron accounts for 80 percent of the first-pour steel in the country.) Nationwide, iron mining produced 42.5 million tons of in 2015, worth $3.8 billion – making it the third highest valued metal mined in the US, after gold and copper.

“We are a port driven by our access to natural resources – within 400 miles of this location you have the highest concentration of recoverable iron ore in the US,” says Jayson Hron, spokesperson for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “When we talk about American-made steel, this region makes up the very building blocks of that industry.”

The Port accommodates nearly 900 vessel visits annually including 1,000-footers coming in and out of the Soo Locks, an integral set of locks enabling ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. In addition, there are 20 privately owned and operated docks along 49 miles of waterfront with major facilities including a general cargo terminal, a fueling depot, 10 bulk terminals, 5 active grain elevators, tug/barge services and a shipyard with two dry docks.

Studies estimate more than 11,500 jobs are dependent on cargo shipments in and out of the Port with 3,000 of those being direct jobs as terminal operators, dockworkers, pilots, freight forwarders, ship repair, laker and barge operators, among others.*

By the Numbers

35 Million – Short Tons of Cargo Per Year

900 – Vessel Visits Annually

11,500 -Jobs Dependent on Cargo Shipments


Studies show that maritime shipping is the most efficient and environmentally-friendly mode of transportation for bulk materials. For example, a 1,000-foot vessel leaving the Port of Duluth can carry up to 70,000 tons of iron ore per trip – the same amount of cargo for approximately 700 rail cars or nearly 3,000 trucks.

In addition, maritime transportation leaves a smaller carbon footprint. On average, Great Lakes-Seaway shipping is 14 percent more fuel efficient than rail and nearly 600 percent more fuel efficient than trucking. This kind of fuel conservation results in fewer emissions and a cleaner environment.

By the Numbers – Bigger is Better

Great Lakes Ships Can:

  • Carry over 70,000 tons of cargo in a single voyage
  • Transport the same amount of cargo as 700 rail cars or 2,800 trucks
  • Produce less greenhouse gas – 19 percent less than rail and 533 percent less than trucks

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority is a founding member of Green Marine, a voluntary environmental improvement program for the North American maritime industry. Founded in 2007, the participants, including ship owners, ports, terminals, Seaway corporations and shipyards based in the US and Canada, agree to conduct their operations in a sustainable manner to help minimize their environmental footprint.


Technological advances help to ensure smooth operations at the Port.

“At the local level, we invest in technology around logistics capabilities and communications among the various modes of transport – marine, truck or rail,” says Hron. “A port is never a place of rest, it’s always a place of transit so we try to function as seamlessly as possible.”

Future investments, in the newest, state-of-the-art navigation technology for instance, are always top of mind, as is harnessing the power of social media.


The Port of Duluth-Superior is involved in a number of memberships in organizations ranging from iron mining, agriculture, state-oriented transportation, infrastructure, federal and state level government advisory boards and city economic development coalitions, among others.

For Duluth residents, sheer proximity to Lake Superior creates for a maritime conscious community. The opening of navigation season always features activities like the annual First Ship Contest, presented in conjunction with Visit Duluth, and the St. Louis River Quest, an educational excursion and field trip held every May for Duluth-Superior area sixth graders.

“People watch ships come in and out in Duluth,” says Hron. “The city wraps around the harbor so you can’t go about your day and not see the working waterfront. The port is part of the fabric of life here. We even get calls from concerned citizens inquiring about ships, especially if one has been sitting at anchor for a long time. We get questions like, ‘Did something break down?’ ‘Could I bake rolls for the crew?’ and, in winter, “Do they have enough warm clothes on board?’ We definitely have a community that is involved and invested in the maritime industry.”


*Source: The Economic Impacts of the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway System; Martin Associates, 2011.