APEX News - October/November 2019
November Board & Investor-Member Meeting Highlights


At the APEX Board of Directors meeting held at the Inn on Lake Superior on November 7, 2019, Mark Schill, with Praxis Strategy Group, reviewed the outcomes of the organization’s strategic planning process. In August and September, APEX engaged its investor-members and partners in a series of face to face focus groups and an online survey to gather input as part of its strategic planning process. A total of 116 stakeholders participated, including about 70 identifying as investor-members and 34 as partners.

“I am pleased with the insights Praxis gleaned from the process. Our investor-members and partners were highly-engaged and provided the feedback needed to ensure our team continues to represent the APEX region effectively in business development, attraction and retention,” stated Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO.

Regional highlights from the process include:

  • Nearly 60% of participants feel the region’s economy has improved over the past few years and 6% feel that it is declining
  • Ultimately, 72% of participants feel that the region does a good job with economic development
  • Strong need for economic diversification remains to be a concern – specifically given the challenges of external economic influences
  • Difficulty accessing new workers remains a challenge most consistently mentioned among participants, followed by the view of an anti-business mentality in the public sector across the region
  • The primary goal for economic development in the region may be shifting away from simply “grow” to a more nuanced call for good jobs and raising incomes
APEX internal assessment highlights:
  • Perceptions of APEX are positive, with 97% agreeing that APEX is a trusted organization – with nearly three-quarters of participants viewing APEX as the leader of economic development in the region
  • APEX is viewed as a neutral, honest and effective broker of development deals and discussions of broader issues affecting economic development
  • Recognition of APEX’s work to bridge regional economic development gaps and improve partner organization relationships; tangible partnerships such as NORTHFORCE and Northland Connection, were cited as examples of positive projects
  • Members invest because they believe in the importance of the organization’s work, but many also expressed value in becoming a participant in APEX’s group of investor-member business leaders
APEX will continue to work to improve the regional business climate. The Executive Committee and staff are currently formulating a plan to rollout insights from the process. The mission, vision, value propositions and key areas of focus were approved by the Board of Directors at the meeting and can be found on the APEX website


APEX Chairman of the Board and CEO of National Bank of Commerce, Steve Burgess (left), pictured with Mark Schill,
Vice President for Research at Praxis Strategy Group & Managing Editor of (middle), and  APEX CEO and President, Brian Hanson (right)

What does your organization/company do?
Essentia Health is an integrated health system serving patients in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Idaho.

Headquartered in Duluth, we combine the strengths and talents of 14,500 employees, including more than 2,100 physicians and advanced practitioners, who serve our patients and communities through the mission of being called to make a healthy difference in people’s lives.

Essentia Health, which includes many Catholic facilities, is guided by the values of Quality, Hospitality, Respect, Joy, Justice, Stewardship and Teamwork. The organization lives out its mission by having a patient-centered focus at 15 hospitals, 77 clinics, six long-term care facilities, three assisted living facilities, three independent living facilities, five ambulance services and one research institute.

How long have you been a member of APEX?
Essentia has been a member for 16 years and was a founding member of APEX.

What do you value about APEX?
Essentia values the opportunities to interact and network with regional businesses. Furthermore, by collaborating and combining our skills, APEX provides critical knowledge and resources to our business community.

What do you want fellow members to know?
Essentia Health is pleased to collaborate with our business partners to provide high-quality, compassionate health care to northern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin. As the region’s only Level 1 adult trauma center and Advanced Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center, we take great pride in providing care to those we are privileged to serve.


                                            Brad Beard
    Chief Operating Officer - East Market
                       Essentia Health

What does your organization/company do?

Flint Group is a strategic marketing and communications company that operates from offices in Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Fargo and Grand Forks. With big ideas and an arsenal of specialists in everything from traditional advertising through the latest digital strategies, Flint Group serves clients in many industries across the United States. Flint Group’s Duluth branch is an advertising and marketing agency dating back to 1949, when H.E. Westmoreland Agency officially opened.

Today, Flint Group in Duluth delivers creative energy and smart strategy for clients in manufacturing, healthcare, education and more. The Duluth team focuses on building strong brands and brand experiences, thinking strategically to solve complex challenges in brand identity, messaging and the customer journey. We’re currently building out a one-of-a-kind brand experience lab in our Tech Village office space. The lab will have tools and resources designed to help our team and our clients to create unique experiences designed to delight customers and elevate brands.

How long have you been a member of APEX? 
We’ve been a part of APEX since 2003.

What do you value about APEX? 

APEX is a great network and association for regional businesses. We value so many things about APEX and the work they complete on behalf of the region. APEX advocates for projects that will have a long-lasting benefit not just for members, but for the business community as a whole. The APEX team sees the bigger picture, which is really important to the ongoing success of our regional economy. As a longtime APEX investor-member, Flint Group enjoys the benefit of being on the front end of learning about new opportunities what might be coming down the pike and how we can deploy our services and expertise for the greater good of the region.

What do you want fellow members to know?

Flint Group recently celebrated the 70th year of our company operating in Duluth. We are extremely proud to continue that history and heritage of the original agency. We joined the 75-year-old Flint Group nearly 20 years ago and are glad to be part of an agency that shares a similar history, values and work ethic. 

The Flint Group team enjoys being part of a business community that is focused on continuing the growth of Duluth as an economic center of our region. We’re excited about the future of this region – with all the big projects that are happening across many industries.

                     Andy Reierson
                      Flint Group

Upcoming Investor-Member Event

APEX Annual Meeting & Reception

Thursday, January 30, 2020
3:00 - 6:00 pm
Pier B, Duluth, MN

Upcoming Staff Event

Mid-America Economic Development Council (MAEDC) Competitiveness Conference and Site Selector Forum

Sunday, December 8 - Tuesday, December 10, 2019
The Renaissance, Chicago, IL

Learn More

Investor-Members in the News

Please click the button below to read about recent announcements and acknowledgments amongst APEX investor-members.
Investor-Members In The News
Regional Economic Indicators Forum - Fall 2019 Recap

The Regional Economic Indicators Forum (REIF), sponsored by the National Bank of Commerce, focuses on the current economic performance of a 15-county region that includes northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin.
At the 2019 Fall REIF, regional leaders in economic development met to review the current status of our economy, share economic indicators that will help business owners make strategic decisions, and disseminate data collected, monitored and analyzed by student teams from the College of St. Scholastica (CSS), University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and University of Wisconsin-Superior (UWS).
The data shows regional stock performance continues to outperform the benchmark index but investors have mixed expectations for the majority of the stocks. Meanwhile, consumer confidence appears to be flagging but business confidence remains strong, despite difficulties finding qualified workers. The difficulty finding qualified workers is widespread. In 2019, there were only 0.9 job seekers for every job posting.
For additional information, please review the Fall 2019 REIF Executive Summary and the Fall 2019 REIF Economic Trends Impact Report.

Keynote Speaker Ron Painter, National Association of Workforce Boards President and CEO.
Brian Hanson, APEX CEO & President, asking a question during the Q&A session following the presentation. 
"The History of Duluth's Performing Arts Mural" at the
NorShor Theatre

Duluth’s NorShor Theatre has seen many transformations during its 100+ year life on Superior Street. After a multi-year renovation, the NorShor Theatre was reopened in 2018 and has become a cultural and arts hub for Duluth and the surrounding area.

As part of the theatre’s renovation, the Duluth Public Arts Commission (DPAC) and the City of Duluth commissioned “The History of Duluth’s Performing Arts Mural”, an artistic interpretation by artist, Susan Prentice Martinsen, on an approximate 68’ wall in the 3rd floor skywalk. The piece was installed over a week’s time span and was completed on Friday, November 1, 2019.

Sandy Johnson, APEX Manager of Member Relations & Administration, is Vice Chair of DPAC and was the lead commissioner on this project.  “Public art adds value, culture and vitality to our community which positively impacts our economy,” Johnson said.  “Art enriches the quality of life in the community which is a factor when attracting and retaining businesses and workforce.  Additionally, The History of Performing Arts Mural is a spectacular art piece that tells a story and shares part of our history with tourists, patrons, families and residents alike.”

The next time you are visiting the NorShor Theatre or walking through the skywalk system, take a moment to check it out.
Read the Full Story

From Strategy to Action: Talent Forecast Update

Regional and national experts assure that our region and nation are in the midst of a workforce shortage. Talent Forecast is focused on setting the foundation for a strong regional workforce development strategy to address this shortage.
Between September 2018 and April 2019, Talent Forecast conducted more than 400 interviews with 110 organizations in 12 industries across northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin. Talent Forecast used survey results to develop the following overarching strategies that are essential to complimenting, growing and filling in the gaps of existing workforce efforts.
A.    Respond to industry demand for workers
B.    Attract and retain vertically mobile, skilled talent for existing and future jobs
C.    Better leverage available, underutilized talent pools to meet workforce needs
The Talent Forecast team is now working to identify current and potential new activities that support each strategy. Find more detail on the Talent Forecast Implementation Strategy Report.
Stay current on all Talent Forecast news and progress online at

APEX Attends TBIC Annual Conference

On November 11-12, 2019, APEX Senior Business Developer, Ian Vincent, attended the Trans-Atlantic Business & Investment Council (TBIC) Annual Conference in Richmond, VA. As new members of this council, this was APEX’s first time being present at this exciting conference. TBIC is dedicated to generating European business attraction leads, educating members on foreign relations and providing site selection consultant services to communities like the APEX region. 
At the conference, Vincent spent one-on-one time with several site selectors both American and European, old and new. Vincent also networked with fellow TBIC member communities and learned how to best leverage TBIC membership and staff time.

Vincent discusses a 2020 Familiarization Tour of the APEX region with site selectors Jim Blair of Navigator Consulting (left) and Florian Stamm of SGR Law (right).
APEX Attends FABTech Expo

Vincent also attended the FABTech Expo in Chicago, IL this month along with fellow board members of the Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators Association (AMFA) and the state of Minnesota. 
FABTech is the place where the industry’s most influential buyers come to see the latest and greatest in metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing. They seek out new technology and products to make their businesses more productive and profitable. Vincent shared the many benefits of operating and working in the APEX region with attendees and provided resources to make their move and expansion a reality. 

Vincent discusses a manufacturer’s product line and supply chain while expressing the benefits of sourcing work from APEX and AMFA member companies.

Students Tour Local Manufacturers for Manufacturing Month

October has become known as Minnesota’s Manufacturing Month, when manufacturers across the state open their doors to provide high school students with the chance to learn about modern manufacturing and to see how STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills are put into practice every day in this industry. Participants have their eyes opened to just how amazing modern manufacturing is, the many different career pathways that are available and the sustainable family income opportunities that exist.

For the past three years, Sandy Johnson, APEX Manager of Member Relations & Administration, has participated on the team that coordinates the regional high school student tours at our regional manufacturing facilities. This year, over 225 students from seven high schools toured 19 manufacturers. Of those 19 manufacturers, six were APEX investor-members: AAR CORP., Altec Industries, Barko HydraulicsBendTec, Inc.GPM, Inc. and Pro Print. Cirrus Aircraft wished to participate, as they have in the past, however, prior commitments conflicted with the tour dates this year.

APEX would like to extend our thanks to all the manufacturers who hosted the student tours. Also, a BIG thank you to AAR for providing approximately 300 safety glasses for the tours. We hope these tours sparked interest in the students to pursue careers in manufacturing after high school and to consider working at some of the facilities they visited here in our region.
Altec Industries
(Permission was obtained from the instructor to show the students’ faces in this particular photo.)
Barko Hydraulics
BendTec, Inc.
GPM, Inc.
Pro Print
Copyright © 2019 APEX, All rights reserved.

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