Planes, People & Possibilities: Part Two

By KBJR News 1

February 26, 2013 Updated Feb 26, 2013 at 11:42 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Not since the days of cement or steel plants in Duluth has the city prepared for such a large wave of people moving into town in such a short amount of time.

They'll be going to our schools, they'll be working in our community, spouses will be going back to school as well, or working," said Jennifer Kuhlman, manager of the 148th Fighter Wing readiness program. "It's going to be an infiltration for a while."

Kuhlman leads a team that will help ensure a painless move for the 44 active duty air force members and in some cases their families.

The opportunity to come and live in a community rather than on a military base is going to be a big change. So we're going to try and make it as simple as possible," Kuhlman said.

Her team will solicit sponsors to help the newcomers find transportation, schools, grocery stores - and most important, housing.

That's where it becomes tricky. The Duluth Chamber's Military Affairs Committee says the greatest and most surprising challenge in this process is finding housing for the airmen.

"We went on the assumption that because Duluth is a college community it has a fair amount of housing," said Pat Mullen, the chair of the Military Affairs Committee. "Then we reached out to the local coast guard because they have active duty people who use housing and we asked them what housing was like. They said it's terrible."

The red flag prompted the creation of a special task force to investigate what's available in and around Duluth.

They're working closely with property owners to solve the problem.

We've trying to get a much stronger housing presence in the type of housing they want, proximity they want, at the price they want," Mullen said.

The clock is ticking with all the air force members expected to arrive by the end of this year.

Our job is to make this work. And we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible once they are here. It is vital for our community to accept them," said Kuhlman.

First term airmen will be required to live in a dorm-like setting, so they may be housed in hotels near the base.

Kevin Jacobsen
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