APEX News - June/July 2019

 New Investor-Members

Kraus-Anderson Construction

Kraus-Anderson Construction is an integrated development, construction and real estate leasing and management company that provides award-winning consulting and construction services from coast to coast. The Kraus-Anderson team brings an owner’s perspective to their work, collaborating closely with clients, architects and other stakeholders to envision and plan for success long before ground is broken. Kraus-Anderson is headquartered in Minneapolis but maintains a strong presence in northern Minnesota with an excellent team based in Duluth.
Benson Electric Company
Benson Electric Company is one of the region’s premier electrical contracting companies, providing a wide range of services for residential and industrial clients. With a focus on safety and customer service, Benson Electric Company covers all aspects of electrical contracting, plant maintenance, marine electrical manufacturing, electric motor repair/sales, controls, panels and machining. Additionally, Benson Electric Company remains true to its 100+-year-old marine roots, providing excellent service work on both Great Lakes and foreign ships.

July Board & Investor-Member Meeting Highlights

On Thursday, July 11, the APEX Board of Directors and Investor-Member meeting was held at the Kitchi Gammi Club. A triad of topics from regional speakers and investor-members included APEX Chair, Steve Burgess with National Bank of Commerce, Deb DeLuca with the Seaway Port Authority, and Krissy Johnson and Stephanie Skraba with NORTHFORCE. The information shared by all entities will inform the APEX strategic planning process currently underway.

Traditionally APEX welcomes investor-members the opportunity to bring and introduce interns at the July meeting. This year six interns attended the meeting from investor-member companies including: ALLETE/Minnesota Power, Giant Voices, College of St. Scholastica, Gardner Builders, Barr Engineering, and the APi Group/Jamar Company. APEX interns, Abigail Blonigen and Hattie Ecklund, were also present.
Analysis of Duluth-Superior and Peer Metropolitan Areas

National Bank of Commerce (NBC) commissioned a study to assess the economic and employment climate in the region. Partnering with the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the study assessed factors that determine the health of our region’s economy, comparing Duluth-Superior to 24 peer cities using a metropolitan vitality index. APEX Chair, Steve Burgess, President and CEO of NBC, shared the results of the study, highlighting the areas of strengths and opportunities of the APEX Region.
Foundations for Growth: Shaping Duluth’s Industrial Economy

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority’s Executive Director, Deb DeLuca, shared highlights of the study commissioned to help inform regional economic development partners and policy makers on the importance and impact of the industrial sector to Duluth’s economy. The study was conducted by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) in 2018. Deb shared insights from the study including the significant wages and tax impact industrial jobs contribute to the economy, growing and emerging industrial job clusters, and many of the complexities associated with land use and availability in the City of Duluth. 

Earlier this year, the NORTHFORCE team invested in a strategic plan to position the organization for continued success in the region. Krissy Johnson and Stephanie Skraba shared the various components of the plan, and associated workforce metrics, to demonstrate how NORTHFORCE will continue to respond to the region’s workforce challenges. The organization will continue to provide curated and personalized service to candidates and employers, connect to regional workforce partners, and provide core mentorship and internship services to the community.

From top left: Steve Burgess with National Bank of Commerce, top right: several interns in attendance, bottom left: Stephanie Skraba and Krissy Johnson with NORTHFORCE, bottom right: Deb DeLuca with the Duluth Seaway Port Authority
What does your organization do?
The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce exists to serve our 1,045 members. We do so by providing business advocacy, collaborative leadership and member-driven initiatives. We engage leaders from business, government, education and labor in a shared effort to move our business community forward.

How long have you been a member of APEX?
The Chamber is a founding member of APEX. Thus, we have been a proud member since 2003. I was a member of the work group which drafted the original business plan, resulting in the establishment of APEX.
What do you value about APEX?
Its insightful regional approach to fortifying our economy. APEX’s leadership in workforce development and strategic research has developed a more sustainable regional economy. Additionally, I admire and respect Brian Hanson and his talented colleagues. They generate impressive results and are respected throughout the region.

What do you want fellow members to know?
The Chamber and APEX continue to work collaboratively to marshal our shared resources in a sustained effort to strengthen our area businesses.
What does your organization/company do? 
The Duluth News Tribune (DNT) is a multimedia company focused on providing unique, quality, local content to inform and entertain the Duluth community through its print and digital products. The DNT also helps local businesses reach potential customers with marketing messages.
How long have you been a member of APEX? 
The DNT is an original member of APEX.

What do you value about APEX? 
We appreciate APEX's efforts to grow our community by helping create well-paying jobs. We also value the work APEX does in advocating for the business community and espousing how valuable a healthy business climate is to the overall vitality of our community.
What do you want fellow members to know? 
The DNT recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, and while how we deliver the news to audience members is changing, we remain committed to honest, truthful reporting. We recently invested in a new look, new enhancements of our website and will soon be rolling out a paywall, which includes digital membership opportunities.

The need for quality, local, community journalism is perhaps greater now than ever before. To continue to provide reporting that keeps local officials in check and documents the milestones of our friends and family members, the DNT - like other community papers - needs the support of local audience members and local businesses. The role community newspapers play is vital to our way of life and the health of our community. We encourage our fellow APEX members to support community journalism and support the Duluth News Tribune.

APEX Strategic Planning Underway

The planning for APEX’s 2020 strategic plan is underway. In the spring, APEX distributed a request for proposal to local, regional and statewide consultants in search of a partner to lead the organization through the strategic planning process. In June, Mark Schill with Praxis Strategy Group was selected to lead the effort.

The APEX Executive Committee and staff are working with Praxis Strategy Group to establish a work plan and timeline for the process. Expect to learn more about how investor-member insight will be gleaned - there will be a number of avenues available to engage and provide feedback this fall. The final strategic plan should be complete by November.

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Upcoming Investor-Member Events

APEX Fall Investor-Member Meetings
Mon., Aug. 19 - Wed., Sept. 11, 2019
Breakfast & Lunch Meetings
Various Locations
To sign-up, contact Bailey Plemel
Employer Solution Series: Untapped Workforce - The Benefits of Hiring People with Disabilities

Wed., Aug. 21, 2019
10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Aad Shrine Mtg. & Event Center, Hermantown


APEX Insider Event at North Shore Bank

Tues., Aug. 27, 2019
4:30 pm - 6:30 pm
131 W. Superior Street, Downtown Duluth

APEX Board & Investor-Member Meeting

Thurs., Sept. 5, 2019
7:00 am - Optional Networking
7:30 am - 9:00 am - Business Meeting
Holiday Inn & Suites, Downtown Duluth
Regional Economic Indicator Forum
Thurs., Oct. 31, 2019
7:00 am - 9:30 am
Harbor Side Ballroom, DECC, Duluth
For more information:

Upcoming Staff Events

Site Selectors Fall Forum
Mon., Sept. 9 - Wed., Sept. 11, 2019
Dallas, Texas
IAMC - Fall Professional Forum

Sat., Sept. 14 - Wed., Sept. 18, 2019
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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

EDAM 2019 Summer Conference Recap

Economic developers, business leaders, emerging professionals and policymakers convened in Duluth in June for the Economic Development Association of Minnesota’s annual summer conference. The APEX team learned a lot at the many breakout sessions and was able to facilitate several important discussions.
The North Shore’s Craft Brewery Industry

It’s no secret that the North Shore has become a popular craft brewery destination, led by innovative and entrepreneurial brewing pioneers. Brian Hanson helped kick off the EDAM 2019 Summer Conference by moderating an exciting panel discussion between Jamie McFarlane of Castle Danger Brewery, Dave Hoops of Hoops Brewing Company and Lars Kuehnow from Lake Superior Brewing.

Regional craft breweries are doing much more than merely attracting droves of beer-loving tourists. They’re providing unique community gathering spaces, creating production and service jobs for the local community, pushing the envelope in craft beer innovation and opening doors for distilleries, cider houses and wineries.
Brian Hanson, moderating a panel of North Shore Craft Breweries including (from left to right) Dave Hoops of Hoops Brewing Company, Jamie McFarlane of Castle Danger Brewery, and Lars Kuehnow of Lake Superior Brewing
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The Power of PlaceVR

Brian Hanson, along with Aaron Brossoit, CEO & Founder, Golden Shovel Agency and Tom Lambrecht, Economic Development Director, Great River Energy led a breakout session focused on the impact of virtual reality (VR) in economic development – especially for remote communities.

Site selectors often don’t have the resources to visit smaller towns, so they miss out on many unique opportunities to develop in unexpected places. APEX’s new virtual FAM tour is an excellent example of the power of PlaceVR. By allowing viewers to explore the APEX region from anywhere, they get a close-up look at the many benefits of the APEX region including ample space to develop, high-speed internet connectivity, an active port, a strong industrial sector and more.

PlaceVR is opening doors and allowing economic developers to cultivate relationships with site selectors from anywhere in the world. As Brossiot put it, “PlaceVR is a powerful marketing tool that economic developers can’t ignore.”
Tom Lambrecht with Great River Energy and Brian Hanson with APEX

Select USA Recap

The 5th year of the Select USA conference in Washington DC proved to be, yet again, a crucial forum for regional economic development. Nowhere else will you find hundreds of foreign investors and government representatives from 79 diverse nations looking to build ties and invest in every corner of the United States. Once again organized by the State of Minnesota’s trade office, APEX participated and developed even closer connections with international site selectors, private organizations, foreign dignitaries, and many others.

Emerging Market Opportunities for Minnesota's Wood Resource

Regional stakeholders gathered at the end of May to learn more about the Bioeconomy Coalition of Minnesota and explore opportunities for Minnesota’s wood resources. This special event was hosted by the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), the Blandin Foundation, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Great Plains Institute (GPI).

“This event gave us a chance to discuss emerging opportunities for innovation in wood products,” said Matt Shermoen, Business Developer at APEX. “Leaders from Minnesota’s forest products industry had excellent ideas on how we can drive the industry forward together.”

The meeting first focused on the role of the Bioeconomy Coalition of Minnesota in bringing everyone involved in the Bioeconomy together to collaborate and grow along the entire value chain, from research and development to production and use. Facilitated by GPI, the Coalition aims to position Minnesota as a global leader in the Bioeconomy by working together on a shared strategy.
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IEDC Receives Substantial Grant From U.S. Economic Development Administration

IEDC recently received a $190K grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), to focus on driving economic development as well as business retention and expansion efforts within Itasca County. IEDC will also contribute $190K to the project, bringing total funding to $380K over two years.

“We are excited to dive in and create a strategy to strengthen our economy,” explained Tamara Lowney, IEDC President. “Receiving this EDA grant creates an exciting opportunity for IEDC to create a strong, diversified business environment in Itasca County.”

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Celebrating the Long-Lasting Impact of Dr. Pat Johns, Outgoing Lake Superior College President

As Lake Superior College ushers in a new era under the leadership of Dr. Patricia Rogers, Brian Hanson took time to thank outgoing president, Dr. Pat Johns, for his incredible and long-lasting impact on our regional economy. Lake Superior College does so much to prepare students for success, and, together as educators, business owners and economic developers, we can strengthen the region’s workforce for the next generation.

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Strategic Direction Continues - Talent Forecast Update

The Talent Forecast research team has wrapped up over nine months of primary research conducted throughout the ten-county Talent Forecast Region. This research included over 400 personal interviews with industry and workforce professionals from over 110 organizations in twelve industries, students of all ages and paths, un/underemployed individuals, career seekers with barriers, and many, many more.

With these insights, in addition to strategic prioritization and direction from two stakeholder sessions, the project planning team is working together to compile shareable results. They are also developing action plans that are designed to inform regional workforce strategy and help local organizations and individuals “plug in” to the regional workforce development network.

APEX Welcomes New Staff

Bailey Plemel – Operations Specialist

APEX recently welcomed Bailey Plemel to the team as Operations Specialist. Bailey is the first point of contact for clients both in the office and on the phone. She is responsible for general office administration, assisting with the hiring and training of interns, and the coordination of APEX meetings, events and promotional activities throughout the year. She will also manage the APEX website, accounts receivables and provide general administrative assistance as needed.

“Bailey’s energy and passion for the region make her a great fit for APEX; we’re pleased to welcome her to the team,” said Brian Hanson, APEX President and CEO. “Her diverse experience, organizational skills and drive to learn will help her provide excellent service to APEX and our investor-members.”

Having grown up in Esko and Cloquet, MN, Plemel loves living and working in northern Minnesota. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota, Duluth and is a watercolor artist currently building up her inventory to open an Etsy shop. She’s also an avid reader and manages and writes content for, a blog that reviews and recommends good books for young adults.

Hattie Ecklund  - APEX Business Development Intern

APEX internships are excellent opportunities for young professionals to gain essential business skills. Our new Business Development Intern, Hattie Ecklund, will be using her skills to help drive business in the region.

Hattie recently graduated from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration, focusing on economics and communication. During her senior year at UMD, Hattie worked as an undergraduate research assistant with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER), where she conducted preliminary research, completed literature reviews, assisted in data collection, facilitated focus groups and performed quantitative analysis for economic research. Hattie is also working as an intern for Sisu Healthcare IT Solutions, helping improve health information technology in rural areas.

We’re excited to help Hattie expand her economic development knowledge and experience at APEX.
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