// //

The mission of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce is to be the representative voice of county for-profit and non-profit businesses in working to improve the county economy and to address pressing county socioeconomic issues.
... read more

Welcome to the Chamber

We want to join others in celebrating the Poplar River Management Board's receipt of the 2019 Rural Vitality Award from the Minnesota Environmental Initiative. Shown in this photo is Tom Rider, co-owner of Lutsen Mountains and president of the management board, receiving the award. Behind Tom is Judy Erickson, who represents the Cook County Chamber and the Poplar River Management Board (PRMB) in St. Paul.

This is a really big deal. The work to bring the Poplar River back from "impaired" status took many years, a great deal of money and lots of hard, dedicated work. It is only the second waterway to ever be successfully rehabilitated to the point it could be removed from the list of impaired waters. You can read more about the award and the work of the PRMB HERE.

Laura Muus. Photo by Rhonda Silence, WTIP


Chamber Hires Workforce Recruitment Specialist

The Cook County Chamber has hired Grand Marais resident Laura Muus to help Chamber members recruit workers from Puerto Rico and other spots in the United States with high unemployment. Laura is available to work with all Chamber members at no cost.

Laura brings a wealth of experience and a terrific set of skills to this job – not least that Spanish is her first language. As a former student worker from Peru on a J1 work & travel visa, she knows very well the challenges facing someone coming here from a Latin-American, Spanish-based culture. As a worker for various Cook County employers, including several that depend on an international workforce, she understands the challenges confronting employers as they search out available labor.

Laura’s  initial focus will be on learning all she can about the process a Cook County employer must navigate to be certified for recruiting workers through the Puerto Rico Department of Labor.

Although Puerto Rico residents are U.S. citizens who are free to come to the mainland, there have been instances of mainland employers taking advantage of Puerto Ricans desperate to find work following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in 2017. As a result, the Department of Labor in Puerto Rico has established a rigorous certification process that each employer must finish if they wish to gain access to workers through the DOL job centers. Laura’s first job will be to help employers get that certification.  She will then help them connect with job applicants.

Laura also will focus on identifying resorts in Puerto Rico that might be willing to establish a reciprocating relationship for seasonal workers who could work in Puerto Rico during the winter and in Cook County during the summer.

The Chamber’s workforce recruitment program, funded in part for the next year by a grant to the Cook County-Grand Marais EDA from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation of Duluth, seeks to discover and develop new pools of workers to supplement county employers traditional dependence on international workers.

Over the years, Cook County employers have been very grateful for the international workers who come here on J1 work & travel visas and H2B work visas. No one has anything but praise for the workers in both programs. But the J1 and H2B visas are vulnerabl e politically these days, and the H2B program is both very expensive and grossly oversubscribed. Prudence requires that we seek to also develop alternative sources of seasonal labor. Our economy requires it.

Although the hospitality industry in Puerto Rico will be an initial focus of Laura’s work, she eventually will be looking in other places and for workers in other job categories – in health care, for example.

Laura is married to Jacob Muus, manager at Johnson’s Foods. The two are proud parents of seven-month old Matteo.

Chamber members who are interested in working with Laura can contact her at 218-370-2410 or at cccworkforce@gmail.com

Businesses interested in joining the Chamber can find information on doing that on the Chamber website: http://cookcountychamber.org/join.php


Below is a link to an excellent report by WTIP News Director Joe Friedrichs on Luis Cortes, who is now working as executive chef at Bluefin Bay in Tofte and will bring his family to live permanently in Cook County before Christmas.

Cortes' recruitment by Bluefin was part of an experimental program developed by the Cook County Chamber, the Cook County/Grand Marais EDA and others, spearheaded by Bluefin Bay owner Dennis Rysdahl, who is a Chamber board member. Rysdahl now has six Puerto Rican employees.

Worker recruitment in Puerto Rico requires that Cook County employers go though an extensive process to get qualified with the Puerto Rico Department of Labor. The department seeks to ensure that Puerto Rican workers are treated fairly by mainland employers. Several local employers now are working to become qualified.

Residents of Puerto Rico are American citizens, so they do not need visas to work in Cook County. While foreign workers on J1 or H2B visas will continue to be critically important to the Cook County economy, the Chamber is committed to finding alternative sources of potential workers in the United States, including Puerto Rico. The visa programs are complicated, can be expensive and are vulnerable to political manipulation. 

Here is the link to the WTIP report: 


This item from The Ranger, a publication of the IRRR, gives a  wonderful description of the culinary arts training program developed as a joint effort of ISD 166, Cook County Higher Ed and Hibbing Community College. This effort has had a big assist from the IRRR, the Cook County/Grand Marais EDA, many Cook County employers and a  host of others. The Chamber was the crucible in which this program originally got its start as a brainstorm. From that small spark, it has now grown enormously and found homes with the agencies doing the ongoing work. Many deserve credit, but none more than Kelsey Kennedy at Cook County Higher Ed. She has done a magnificent job with this program.

The start of the training program now is slated for the fall of 2019. A run was made at starting in January, but that proved a leap too far.

Culinary program addresses North Shore workforce shortage

Hibbing Community College (HCC) will offer its culinary program in Grand Marais to help meet the demand for skilled kitchen workers in Cook County’s hospitality-based economy. The county has more than 50 food establishments and resorts, and many have had to reduce hours of operation, increase overtime for existing employees, and condense menus as a result of the culinary workforce shortage.

“The workforce shortage has stressed the bottom line of many of our restaurants,” said Kelsey Kennedy, Cook County Higher Education (CCHE) program coordinator. “The culinary program will strive to produce an influx of skilled kitchen staff as well as grow local culinary workers, enabling the area’s restaurants to return to full operational capacity and in some instances grow and expand.”

HCC’s program offered on the North Shore will be led by a credentialed culinary instructor, and students may choose either a 17-week Culinary Arts Certificate (16 credits) or a 34-week program to earn a One-Year Culinary Arts Diploma (31 credits). Curriculum includes food handling and safety techniques, planning and production, personnel management, cost control methods, nutritional menu planning, food presentation and banquet service. Bonus programming also includes resume building, future employment options, healthy living, and business and leadership skills.

Classes will be 7.5 hours per day, Monday thru Thursday in the new, state-of-the-art culinary classroom at Cook County High School. It is an “Earn While You Learn” program in which students can be connected to a paid culinary job part-time during the school term and full time during the summer months or upon graduation. Students will work and learn side by side with chefs in many of Cook County’s world-class kitchens, and some resorts will offer housing in conjunction with employment. Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training’s (NEMOJT) Talent Development Program will work with approved employers to help cover partial training and tuition costs.

The certificate and diploma will be from HCC and will indicate to potential employers that the student has the skills necessary to be hired in upper level kitchen positions such as kitchen manager, food production manager, chef (most locations will require additional work experience), sous chef, banquet chef and cook/supervisor.

The idea of bringing a culinary program to the North Shore originated from Cook County Workforce Solutions (CCWS), a coalition formed to create solutions to the shortage of skilled employees in Cook County. The coalition works to recruit new employees from outside the region and to create educational opportunities that aid in attracting and developing workers. Coalition partners include CCHE, HCC, ISD 166, Cook County Chamber of Commerce, Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority, North Shore Health, Visit Cook County and private businesses.

“It is truly a community partnership that grew out of a need for trained kitchen staff,” said Kennedy. “Cook County relies heavily on tourism and serves over one million people per year. The restaurants and resorts in our region strongly endorse this new workforce initiative. And other than Hibbing, there is not another accredited culinary program north of St. Paul, so we anticipate this meeting a need even beyond Cook County.”

This program was supported by a Workforce Development grant from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. Email Danae Beaudette for grant information or call her at 218-735-3022.


So What Happened to the Sanborn Canoe, and how does that delightful spirit of the forest, Kristofer Bowman, figure into the tale?

All summer long, our friends around Grand Marais have been selling raffle tickets for a colorful Sanborn Canoe adorned with a Betsy Bowen woodcut design on the bow. In her design, Betsy sought  to evoke the Voyageur heritage of this area, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Northern Lights.

Each morning all summer and fall, the canoe would find its way to a perch in front of the Beaver House in Grand Marais. Tyson Cronberg and Austin Oullis would sell tickets for it. Each evening, the canoe would return to its overnight home in what once was a bay for fire trucks in Grand Marais City hall.

Tickets also were sold at Drury Lane Books, Joynes Department Store, Buck’s Hardware, Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply and Java Moose.

Last week we collected all those ticket stubs and took them to Grand Portage, where the winning ticket would be drawn during the 2018 Visit Cook County/Cook County Chamber Fall Gala. Linda Jurek, executive director of Visit Cook County, drew the winning ticket, which was purchased by someone named John Herman of Eagan, MN.

Turns out there are a number of folks in Minnesota with the name “John Herman.” THIS John Herman purchased the ticket while in Grand Marais to visit the amazing Kristofer Bowman and his wonderful partner Andy Ness.

ristofer, for those who do not know him if there be such, keeps shop at Upstate MN in Grand Marais, where he offers an eclectic mix of artist made goods that “aim to reflect this northern landscape through element, tone and materials.”  Andy is a highly regarded artist who is fresh back from a prestigious opening in Italy.

Turns out that Andy’s mother, Jean Echternacht, is the girlfriend of John Sherman, and while they were in Grand Marais to celebrate Andy’s 40th birthday late July, John purchased a ticket on the Sanborn canoe.

So that is the delightful story of how the Sanborn has weaved a connection to Grand Marais that will endure.

The Sanborn went from Grand Portage back to the company workshop in Winona, where Greg Fellman of Merrimack/Sanborn Canoes will give it a buff and shine, and fix any blemishes that developed while the canoe sat out in the sun all summer. Greg then will deliver the canoe to John Herman in Eagan. Kristopher reports that the canoe is likely to find a home at “tiny Ruth Lake near Brainerd.”

Meanwhile, back at the Chamber, we earned about $8,000 net from sales of raffle tickets on the Sanborn. That money will help finance the 2019 edition of the Great Place Project, which provides small grants to businesses, community groups and individuals to create great small places around Cook County.

Projects financed in the past range from an outdoor ping pong table in front of the Grand Marais Library to bobber benches in front of Beaver House, a colorful bike rack at Lockport Marketplace & Deli in Lutsen and, across the street from Lockport, a giant, metal plaid moose fashioned by metal artist Tom Christiansen.

Upcoming Events and Happenings | view calendar

Current News

Measuring our Tourism Economy - By the Numbers
Just-released figures from the Minnesota Department of Revenue demonstrate again how important... read more
Here's a link to a good explainer on workforce housing
You may need to copy this web address and paste it into your browser. This information comes... read more

Cook County Economic Dashboard

Website by Katherine Hellner and Sandra Schutte of Two Dogs in the Web, LLC